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Malware Overview

Do you know what goes on under the hood of your car? Do you know the solution for a warning light on the dash? Do you know what’s wrong with the car if it starts making strange noises or loses power?

Those same questions can be asked about your computer.

Computers can have many of the same problems as cars. Engine problems can cause cars to lose power, just like a large program can take up too much of the computer for anything else to run. Where an engine could “throw a rod” or “break a timing chain,” computers can mysteriously reboot or die with the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death.”

We expect that our car will bog down sometimes. You can’t expect a car to perform as well when pulling a two-ton trailer up a five degree hill. Likewise, when a computer gets bogged down with a big project, you would expect it to respond a little slower.

What you don’t expect is for either the car or the computer to bog down or die when we’re not pushing so hard.

One of the things that “Malware” can do is exactly that. It forces the computer to work harder, taking power away from our programs. It would be like sneaking a dozen cinderblocks into the back of the family car right before the trip.

“Malware” is software that works without the user’s knowledge and consent. Sometimes called “badware,” it covers a wide range of programs, including computer viruses, spyware, adware, and more. Adware can bog down the computer, because it contacts websites to download fresh ads. Spyware collects data on you and the websites you visit and returns all of that data to the host website. And viruses just want to find a way to spread to other computers.

But most importantly, malware runs “under the hoood” and behind your back, so that you don’t even know that it’s there.

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Spyware Overview

Imagine a program that watches your computer.

It sits in memory, watching everything the computer does–the websites it displays, the passwords used to get into them, the advertisements that get clicked on. This program silently and secretly gathers all of this information, without the user’s knowledge. Then, at some point, it connects to a server somewhere on the Internet, and hands over this collection–again, without letting the owner of the computer know what it’s done.

Scary thought?

Experts believe that at least six out of ten perhaps as many as nine out of ten computers on the Internet have this kind of malware installed. Like a virus, many spyware programs run without the user’s consent or knowledge.

There is an entire industry devoted to gathering demographics information through the use of spyware, and there is another industry that’s grown to combat spyware.

Spyware is meant to capture “demographics.” This is meant to help advertisers better target their ads. For example, if a piece of spyware reports that the user recently visited websites for car dealerships, then the spyware server would then send ads for cars to the computer.

Many people, however, regard this as an invasion of privacy. Spyware companies claim to only gather “generic” information, like web site addresses and zip codes, but it’s still very easy to gather critical information. Anything entered into a web form can end up in the spyware collection–such things as phone numbers, email addresses, credit card numbers, and even social security numbers can all find their way into a spyware database.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference. Some popular programs have spyware attached, and will quit working if the spyware is uninstalled–so the user has to decide whether that program is worth it.

Provided, of course, the user even knows that the spyware is running on his system.

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