Download (direct link):
142 PC Magazine — Fighting Spyware, Viruses, and Malware
take hold. In fact, in a July 2004 report from Trend Micro (makers of PC-Cillin, another well-known anti-virus package with growing anti-spyware and anti-adware coverage) includes this chilling statement: “Reports now show that nearly one in three computers are infected with a Trojan horse or system monitor planted by spyware. These hidden software programs gather and transmit information about a person or organization via the Internet without their knowledge.” According to definitions presented earlier in this book, it’s hard to say what’s spyware and what’s malware because of these capabilities — it’s really both!
Microsoft’s Protect Your PC Web page fails to make this case. Although the company clearly recognizes the importance of patching a PC’s operating system (and especially, of keeping up with security updates), strongly recommends the use of a firewall, and stresses use of up-to-date anti-virus software, it omits mention of any need to protect PCs against adware, spyware, spam, and other forms of unwanted software and content. I’d argue that the company’s more protective security defaults in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), along with the pop-up blocker in Internet Explorer (IE) and the more capable Windows Firewall, signify Microsoft’s growing sensitivity to such matters. But the company’s failure to mention adware or spyware does not mean you needn’t worry about its potential impact on your PC, or that you shouldn’t add some kind of anti-spyware and anti-adware software to your personal PC security arsenal.
On the Web
Download the Trend Micro Technical Note "Spyware — a Hidden Threat" from www.trendmicro.com/ NR/rdonlyres/B942C2E4-16A1-4AC0-9D42-B2085 58AE187/1197 7/WP01Spyware_ForTM Website_070204US.pdf. (If you don’t feel like keying in such a long URL, simply visit www.trendmicro .com and then use its search engine to look for pages related to spyware.) You can find Microsoft’s Protect Your PC home page at www.microsoft.com/athome/security/protect/default.aspx.
What Are Spyware and Adware, Really?
You’ve already seen formal definitions for these terms earlier in this book, but their essence is that both types of software enter a system uninvited and often without soliciting permission. Whereas adware may sometimes claim it’s been granted permission because of terms and conditions buried somewhere in fine print in a multipage software license or end user license agreement — you know, the ones where you click “I agree” without necessarily reading all the fine print — most experts agree that claims of full and open disclosure as a result are not credible or terribly ethical. Spyware seldom seeks to cloak itself in respectability, but some kinds of spyware — especially browser cookies designed to profile visitors who return to a Web site — may also be granted user permission through licenses or usage agreements. What’s different about spyware as compared to adware is that it gathers information about users so it can report it to a third party. What’s different about adware as compared to spyware is that it seeks to create conduits for sending or displaying advertisements (and may also collect user information to better target ad selection based on user preferences, sites visited, items purchased, and so forth) as a primary objective.
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Chapter 7: Anti-Spyware and Anti-Adware Proqrams 143
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How would you classify an item of software with the following characteristics?
¦ Shows up uninvited, and attempts to foil various potential means of detection (anti-virus, anti-spyware/anti-adware, and sometimes even firewall software). Does everything it can to stay hidden and remain undetected. These are characteristic of spyware, adware, and malware alike.
Scans all files on the computer on which it resides (especially e-mail messages, documents, text files, and other sources of personal information), harvesting names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, bank account information, credit card numbers and other related data, and so forth. Stores all of this information in some covert manner, possibly encrypted. This is a typical characteristic of more malicious forms of spyware.
When some time or data collection threshold is passed, opens a “safe” port on the infected computer and uploads all harvested data to a server elsewhere on the Internet. As soon as the upload concludes, the open ports are closed and the software goes back into hiding. Alternatively, the software could create an e-mail message, and then use a client e-mail package to send it or employ its own built-in Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) engine. This opens a back door to communicate private, confidential information without a user’s knowledge or consent and is characteristic of spyware and some Trojans.