Adware, Spyware, and Trojans – Oh My! A Guide to What’s What

Back in the good old days of malicious programs that infected computers, most users only had to know one term…virus. However, as technology advances, so do the variations of PC infections. The good news is that security experts have developed the means to assist users with ensuring that they do not become victimized by the array of malicious programs out there. However, it’s handy to know what variations exist on the internet. Here is a breakdown of the most popular forms of malicious software.

Adware – This type of infection’s main purpose is to display advertisements to the computer user. It is typically installed as an extra application for a number of free software programs on the internet and monitors your browsing history so that it can display relevant ads. Many sites that offer “freeware” programs attach adware to the installation as an alternative means of generating revenue.

Keylogger – This is one of the most dangerous types of malicious programs as its purpose is to record the user’s keystrokes. By doing so, it gives the author of the keylogging program access to your usernames, passwords, credit card information (if you make purchases online), account numbers, and other private data; such as instant message conversations and e-mail text.

Malware – This is basically a generic term to describe various types of infections. The term is derived from the words MALicious and softWARE.

Phishing – Have you ever received an e-mail from a company asking you for your account information? If you have, that is a type of phishing scam. In a nutshell, perpetrators create fake e-mails masquerading as a legitimate company as a means to obtain personal data. This are relatively easy to spot as most companies will NEVER ask for your personal information in an e-mail.

Spyware – This is a form of infection that is designed to record information about the user; such as browsing habits and history. It is also capable redirecting your browser to other sites, installing additional software, and making changes to your computer settings. Side effects of this type of infection often include random pop-up advertisements and loss of internet connectivity.

Trojan Horse – As one of the more sneaky types of infections, trojan horses were not designed to wreak havoc on a computer. Instead, they are used to allow a hacker to gain remote access to an infected PC in order to perform various actions; such as deleting/modifying files, installing software, or stealing data saved on the computer.

Virus – A computer virus is a self-replicating program that attaches itself to files and/or programs and runs each time that particular file or program is run on the computer. It is also designed to spread to other computers and can accomplish this task by using your e-mail program (i.e., Microsoft Outlook). Viruses can result in number of problems; such as causing damage to various documents, including files necessary for your computer to operate.

Worm – This type of malicious software isn’t specifically used to steal data or damage system files. Instead, its goal is to spread. As a self-replicating program, it duplicates itself on the user’s computer and uses network resources to send itself to other PCs on the network. Because of its ability to self-replicate, worms can cause a severe interruption in computer and network performance.