Computer Infections Part 2

Malware, Spyware, Adware, Keylogger, Tracking Cookie, Virus, Trojan, Worm, Rootkit, Exploit

Malware is a term derived from “malicious software.”  The intent of malware is to cause harm.  This term is applied generally to infections such as viruses, trojans, and worms.  Malware may include pop-ups, destruction of your data, hijacking your web browser, and so much more.

Spyware is software that does exactly what the name implies.  It spies on you.  Spyware collects information such as personal data and activities.  Where does this information go?  Spyware sends this information to the installer or creator of the software.  While you are surfing the web, logging into web sites, saving your passwords, and so on and so forth, spyware is collecting this information.

Adware is advertising.  Many of the freeware or shareware available for download contain adware.  The program will include banners or other forms of advertisement.  The great thing with adware is that you can get what would have been a costly piece of software downloaded to your computer for free.  However, most adware contains tools that will analyze and monitor your use of your computer.  Your personal information and data are consequently no longer private.  Much like spyware, adware will report your activity and use to the installer or creator.

Keyloggers are programs too.  Installed on a computer, a keylogger will record all input from a keyboard.  Each time that you press a key, the keylogger records the keystroke in a file.  Keyloggers are used for multiple purposes.  Keyloggers record usernames and passwords.  They can be installed by parents or marital partners to hide in the background and record every thing typed by anther user, including children and teens.  They can be installed maliciously in a computer attack.  Have you wondered how your eBay or PayPal website intrusion occurred?  This is the easiest way to get usernames and passwords for “hacking” purposes.

A tracking cookie is exclusive to your internet or web browsing activity.  If you are using a good internet security bundle, you will receive notification of the tracking cookies removed after a scan.  However, tracking cookies are not exclusive to just the personal computer.  Cookies are data from a web server and sent to the internet browser.   Cookies themselves speed up our ability to browse more frequent sites and maintain the “remember me” feature of forums and shopping carts.  So, while a violation of privacy, balancing cookies, which are necessary for most web activities, and actual tracking cookies is a consequence and necessity of internet usage.  The damage to you is that a log file will report what pages you have visited and the sequence that you visited.

A virus is the oldest and most original form of malicious attack.  It has one purpose.  A virus will inject its code into a normally functioning program and attempt to copy itself.  Damage, and as much damage as possible, is the sole reason that a virus exists.  Biologically a virus needs a host.  The same is true in this respect as well.  A computer virus cannot run by itself.  However, a virus will spread by using the program it infected.  Computer users pass viruses on portable media, such as flash drives and discs, and over the network, or internet, through their contact with other computers and users.

A trojan, also known as a trojan horse, is very similar in function as the Trojan Horse from history.  The computer trojan will appear as something harmless – a program, a file, a picture, et cetera.  The purpose of the trojan is not to replicate.  You will more than likely not cause harm to others when infected.  However, you will consequently allow others to cause harm to you.  A trojan is a wonderful way for a hacker to gain access to your computer remotely.  As well, the trojan could download and upload files from and to your computer, delete files, log keystrokes, or watch your screen, and even crash your computer.

A worm works differently.  It will use your email or network to copy itself.  A worm does not need to use another program.  It can work independently.  Email viruses can usually be traced to a worm that has taken over a computer user’s email program and used it to replicate itself to all of the contacts or senders in the program. Sometimes the only volatile intention of a worm is to replicate.  While consuming bandwidth, that is slowing down the network or internet connections, they often do not have any intent, or routine, to corrupt the system on which they exist.

A rootkit infections is probably one of the worst.  It is the nightmare of all other computer infections.  If you think of a tree, it has roots, trunk, limbs, twigs, and leaves.  Well, the concept is similar in an operating system.  The operating system must have a root.  Therefore, the root of an operating system it the top-most directory, the starting point.  A rootkit infection installs in the top-most directory of the operating system.  This gives unrestricted privilege and access to the computer.  You won’t know that it is running except for the programs that fail to function or the action you request is diverted in favor of another function or application.  An attack must first gain access to the root of the operating system, usually by an administrative password or known vulnerability in the operating system.  Detection of a rootkit is illusive.  Removal is complicated and near impossible.

An exploit is any piece of code, data, series of executable commands, et cetera that infiltrates because of a vulnerability in a program or the operating system itself.  The changes in function can range from odd behavior to total failure of any piece of hardware or software.  In turn, an exploit can alter the computer to allow further “hacking.”

I hope this crash course in infection terminology has helped you to understand the consequences if you continue to deny that you need to do anything to protect yourself in the digital world.

As well, let me remind you that any Mac-OS-based computer is at as much of a risk as a Windows-OS-based computer.  Your Mac does not browse a different web, or internet.  Please keep this in mind!


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