Identity Theft Protection from Spyware, Adware, Keyloggers and other Nasties of the Net

by: Brenda Mohney

Spyware, adware, keyloggers, dialers…the list goes on and on. With so many new threats coming online it is easy to be confused about what the threats are, what they do and how they contribute to you becoming an identity theft victim. While you don’t want any of these programs on your system it is important that you understand which threats are more dangerous and which ones you should be the most diligent in identifying and eliminating from your computer system.

Below you will find a list of the threats you are most likely to encounter in your travels on the internet and which ones you should take steps to remove immediately.

Spyware:

While spyware can often include keyloggers, which we explain in greater detail below, the main purpose of most spyware is just that…to spy on you, to see where you are going on the internet, when you are going there and what you are doing once you get there. Advertisers use this information to target your habits with purpose of putting before you sales pitches on delectable items that you just can’t pass up but will promptly pull out your visa card to purchase.

The information obtained can even be more invasive to your privacy by collecting the MAC address of the network card in your PC and matching it to your IP address that you are assigned when connected to the internet. Combining this information with your surfing habits can give advertisers a very clear picture of your likes and dislikes.

I don’t know about you but while I have been conditioned to accept the fact that I am going to be advertised to at just about every activity I engage in, and I also believe in the pursuit of the all-mighty dollar, I don’t want to volunteer to give up all aspects of my online privacy to help someone make a quick buck.

Adware:

Adware programs are usually just plain annoying and can range from a banner ad within the freeware program, a pop up ad, an installed toolbar to a hijacked home page or search page. Adware can often cause incompatibilities in your system slowing it to a crawl and possibly crashing your operating system.

Adware programs are often bundled with freeware programs and are installed on your system alongside the freeware program. By serving ads to you the freeware author can streamline an income for their efforts without having to charge you a fee for use of the program. In this instance you agree to allow the advertisers to market directly to you in exchange for a free program by accepting the EULA (End-User License Agreement) during installation.

Some advertisers seek to serve targeted ads by also installing another component that tracks your web habits. In this instance it is no longer considered just adware but instead is elevated to spyware status.

Malware:

Malware typically includes Trojans, which we discuss in greater detail later, viruses, and worms. The intention of malware is perform a variety of destructive acts on your computer system and is normally installed without your knowledge.

Viruses:

Viruses have been so dubbed with the name because of their ability to proliferate and spread from computer to computer. Viruses were initially written by budding programmers wishing to show off their skills by writing ‘prankster’ viruses.

Originally written for fun, there is always someone who comes along to try and exploit things and viruses turned to committing destructive acts on the PC rather than performing just a ‘funny’ prank.

Currently the intent of 'most' viruses are to delete files on your computer, including system files, which will render your computer unusable until you reinstall your operating system.

Reinstalling your operating system may not be a walk in the park, but when compared to losing your work files...I would much rather reinstall the OS anytime over losing all my work. (hint: backup, backup, backup)

Worms:

Worms are another variant of viruses that usually replicate themselves by making copies of itself within the computer’s memory with the intent of causing some form of destruction similar to a virus.

Dialers:

Dialers are software programs that have the ability to make phone calls from your computer using your modem without your knowledge. These programs are usually intent on connecting to the internet at an expensive rate or dialing 900 numbers and leaving you with the expensive charges. Even with the high use of broadband connections, users are still vulnerable if they have modems in their PCs.

Trojans:

Trojans are quite nasty little creatures that can open a backdoor into your computer system and allow someone to obtain complete access to your files to do as they wish, such as view password files stored on your system.

Most hackers won’t do anything too obvious to your PC, they don’t want you to know they are there so therefore they won’t do anything that would alert you to their presence.

Many Trojans are installed with the sole purpose of obscurely using your PC as a zombie to attack internet sites or deliver email spam. If an internet site is attacked and the police investigate, where do you think the trail will lead them…why, to your front door of course, all the while, the hacker skips away scott-free.

Keyloggers:

Keylogger programs are very sneaky and will allow someone to obtain information on everything you type on your computer (they log every key you type...obviously). That would include usernames and passwords on websites, such as your banking website. This information can be emailed to the hacker to use as they wish.

Many keylogger programs are free and abundantly available for download on the internet. Most are used to monitor spouses or children. In fact I tested a few freely available programs to monitor my kids and ensure their online safety when they first discovered the internet. They are amazingly easy to set up and use.

Keylogger programs are easier to install if a person has physical access to your computer but many can sent through an email program and installed from there, a bit harder, but far from impossible. That should give you another reason to not open any email attachments no matter how enticing they look.

Greatest threats to your identity:

As you have probably deduced by now, the greatest threats to your identity will usually come from Trojans and Keyloggers and it is recommended you take steps to check for them and remove them immediately.

Even so, you don’t want any of the offending software programs installed on your system. It is advisable to run anti-virus, anti-trojan and anti-spyware removers on your system. I run multiple programs of each to be sure I haven’t missed anything…but then again, I borderline on being obsessive when it comes to protecting my system and preventing identity theft.

Stay tuned for reviews of the best anti-virus, anti-trojan and anti-spyware programs to use on your system.

About The Author:
Brenda Mohney - Founder of Identity Theft Security, a site dedicated to providing tools and tips to help people protect their identities. She is also founder of Azure Web Solution, a web development company providing web solutions to small businesses.