Identifying Common Internet Threats to Your Computer – Part 1

Introduction:  Landscape of the Battlefield

Nowadays it seems you can’t stray off the path of major sites like Google, Amazon or Yahoo without getting some useless program installed on your PC.  You may even fear risking your security by unwittingly letting some malicious program install itself on your PC.

As you browse the web, you see all these “free” programs and utilities promising you make your PC run better.  A very small percentage of these are useful, but they often come bundled with all sorts of additional programs.  You end up installing programs that you never heard of without even knowing it.  Yes, these legitimate programs can trick you.

It doesn’t take much to get your computer infected or clogged up with so much junk software that it slows to a crawl.  Additionally, you may also end up with malicious programs that can cause even greater havoc.

It is the intention of this article to discuss the characteristics of the major internet threats out there, helping you to be aware of them, and hopefully stay out of trouble.  This knowledge was learned from our years of experience as computer technicians, having “seen it all” and having repaired thousands of computers.

One Big Big Word of Warning: Your Antivirus or Internet Security program will NEVER be 100% Effective!

Our customers always ask why they got hit when they were running a good Anti-Virus program.  The reason is because the crime syndicates that create these programs have large numbers of excellent programmers and strategists that change up their programs and methods as quickly as several times a day!  No security program can keep up.  If you are unfortunate enough to hit a page that was just hacked, the infection will get through.

To keep you eyes from glazing over, we divided this post into category sections, each one dealing with one aspect of the subject.  This post contains the first two subject categories.

Note:  We won’t be saying much about viruses.  Viruses are still out there, but they are actually not used much these days and are rarely the real problem.  The real problem is “Spyware” and/or “Malware”.


Threat Category 1:  Scare-Ware and Scam-Ware

These programs are designed to take money from you, plain and simple.  We’ve all heard of the e-mail scams that tried to get you to send money to someone in a poor country.  Since most people are aware of these scams by now, they hardly work anymore.  Thus a new scam has appeared to take its place.

The most popular scam nowadays is to distribute programs masquerading as “security programs”.  These programs pop up out of nowhere and tell you your computer is severely infected and that you’re in grave danger of losing your identity, or whatever (thus the term “scare-ware”).  They insist that the only way to repair the issue is to purchase the program.

These programs often appear to be valid, although they’re absolute fakes.  They sometimes use the names and even the logos of well-known security programs, even those of Microsoft itself!  Most people can’t tell the difference.  If you look really close, you’ll notice some differences, but most people won’t see them.

Once these programs get through, they often hijack your PC.  You can’t get on the web.  You can’t get to the control panel or launch any of your utilities.  If you have a security or antivirus program, they will disable it so you can’t run a cleanup scan.  Getting rid of these programs can be quite difficult and sometimes requires a bit of “reverse hacking”.

It’s interesting to note that hardly any of these programs are created North America.  If you look closely, you’ll notice poor syntax, weird slang terms that are never used, or simple misspellings.  So where do these programs come from?  Mostly Russia and the Ukraine.  Many of the developers are members of organized crime syndicates.  That’s why they’re not afraid of being sued for using legitimate companies’ logos.


Threat Category 2: Spyware

Spyware is a term used to describe software that…. you guessed it…. spies on you. These programs are not usually harmful, but they can be over time.  They are often the main component of most of the free stuff you see out there.  Common examples include mouse icon replacements, “fun” cursors, screen savers, “smiley’s” and wallpaper.  One that we see all the time is called “Fun Web Products”.

How do these people make money if their product is free?  Well, by collecting all kinds of data about you, then selling it to marketing companies.  This data is then used to advertise products to you.  If these programs ask you to “register”, using your email address, it would then be sold to marketers, resulting in your inbox getting stuffed with spam.

Spyware has some more dangerous variants.  There are dozens, but the nastiest are programs called “keyloggers”, which can monitor what you type and possibly get your passwords.  This could then of course compromise actives like online banking.

A Common Question: What is Malware vs. Spyware?

Malware is sort of a “catch all” name for all “MALicious softWARE”.  Both viruses and spyware fall into sub-categories of Malware. The common purpose of all these programs is to disrupt the normal operation of your computer and/or compromise your security (ie take your money).

That’s it for now.  Check back in a few days for the next part in this series.  Also please check out our website for more about us and how we can help if you get virus or spyware infection.  Be safe everyone!

To Continue to Part 2 of this Article, Click Here

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About Steve Frantzis

Steve Frantzis is the Owner of Saguaro PC Tech, LLC, a computer repair shop in Tucson. If you have any questions or need help with your laptop, desktop, Mac, or mobile device, please call Us at (520) 250-5948.