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Types of Spyware
Many Spyware programs specialize in performing one task-displaying
ads, collecting data, changing browser settings, etc. - and can be
easily categorized. However there are a large number that perform a variety
of different actions and are harder to label. Still, a vocabulary for
the different types of Spyware threats has grown useful within the industry
and may help home users detect and diagnose threats.
Displays unwanted or intrusive advertisements, or facilitates the delivery
of unwanted ads. The Adware label covers a broad range of threats that
can display ads in browser windows, open commercial Web sites, and collect
data for market research.
Browser Helper Object (BHO)
BHOs are not inherently dangerous. They are DLL files that are executed
by Internet Explorer. Add-in toolbars and sidebars are BHOs, and many
of them are completely benign, like the Google toolbar. However, a great
number of BHOs function as Spyware, tracking Web usage, recording private
data and even displaying ads.
Changes Web browser settings like homepage, search page, error page,
and Favorites/Bookmarks. Browser hijackers are a common form of Spyware,
affecting millions of computers across North America alone. If your homepage
changes unexpectedly or your search results seem strange, you may have
a browser hijacker.
Programs that access a user's phone line via a phone-connected modem.
Dialers can make unauthorized calls to pay-per-minute phone services,
costing the user hundreds of dollars in phone charges.
Downloads and installs unsolicited files or programs, often without notifying
the user or requesting permission. Downloader programs are especially
dangerous because they allow any type of file, including worms and viruses,
to be downloaded onto the user's computer
Exploits a security vulnerability in another program, often to allow
an intruder to remotely access the user's computer. A threat is often
classified as an exploit if it is known to exploit a vulnerability, but
its other effects are unknown.
Sends massive amounts of data to a computer or network in an attempt
to overload and disable a network/Internet connection.
Records keystrokes into a log file and may transmit or e-mail the file
to an intruder. Keyloggers can record passwords and logins, allowing intruders
to access passworded programs and web sites, including online banking accounts.
Most keyloggers log ALL keystrokes.
A generic term for software designed specifically to do damage-"malicious
software." Malware and viruses seem similar, but Malware is typically
not self-replicating or designed for PC-to-PC distribution.
Remote Administration Tool (RAT)
Allows a remote intruder to access a user's PC and perform unwanted actions
ranging from basic data collection to file erasure and uploading, restart
and shutdown, and even hard-drive formatting. Similar to so-called "backdoor"
applications, RATs give intruders easy access to a PC.
Designed to collect data for a variety of purposes, true Spyware (or
surveillance) applications record personal or private information and
transmit it to a third party. Often this data is used for market research
and advertising, but more malicious Spyware programs attempt to steal
passwords, logins, banking details and credit card information.
Tracks the user's Web usage, Web searches, or general computer use. Cookies
are one kind of data miner, and although most are harmless, some attempt
to collect private information.
They're not Spyware, but the following are commonly associated with many
Trojan horse programs take their name from the mythical wooden horse
that carried hidden Greek soldiers into Troy. These programs contain hidden
functionality, often posing as useful applications yet performing Spyware
or Adware functions, or allowing remote access.
Worms are self-replicating, fast-spreading Internet threats that are
more akin to viruses than Spyware. They differ from viruses in that they
can replace entire files on the host computer. Both viruses and worms
attempt to spread to as many computers as possible, using e-mail, the
Internet, and file-sharing networks as methods of distribution.