The Difference Between Adware, Spyware, and Virus
As technology advances and more people come to rely on the Internet for information, leisure, and business it seems as if keeping your computer free of advertising is a daunting task. Not technically fitting into either the virus or spam category we have spyware and adware, which are growing concerns for Internet users. At times these programs may invade your privacy, contain malicious code, and at the very least they can be a nuisance when using a computer connected to the Internet.
Adware is considered a legitmate alternative offered to consumers who do not wish to pay for software. Programs, games or utilities can be designed and distributed as freeware. Sometimes freeware blocks features and functions of the software until you pay to register it. Today we have a growing number of software developers who offer their goods as "sponsored" freeware until you pay to register. Generally most or all features of the freeware are enabled but you will be viewing sponsored advertisements while the software is being used. The advertisements usually run in a small section of the software interface or as a pop-up ad box on your desktop. When you stop running the software, the ads should disappear. This allows consumers to try the software before they buy and you always have the option of disabling the ads by purchasing a registration key.
In many cases, adware is a legitimate revenue source for companies who offer their software free to users. A perfect example of this would be the popular e-mail program, Eudora. You can choose to purchase Eudora or run the software in sponsored mode. In sponsored mode Eudora will display an ad window in the program and up to three sponsored toolbar links. Eudora adware is not malicious; it reportedly doesn't track your habits or provide information about you to a third party. This type of adware is simply serving up random paid ads within the program. When you quit the program the ads will stop running on your system.
Unfortunately, some freeware applications which contain adware do track your surfing habits in order to serve ads related to you. When the adware becomes intrusive like this, then we move it in the spyware category and it then becomes something you should avoid for privacy and security reasons. Due to its invasive nature, spyware has really given adware a bad name as many people do not know the differences between the two, or use the the terms interchangeably.
Spyware is considered a malicious program and is similar to a Trojan Horse in that users unwittingly install the product when they install something else. A common way to become a victim of spyware is to download certain peer-to-peer file swapping products that are available today.
Spyware works like adware but is usually a separate program that is installed unknowingly when you install another freeware type program or application. Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers.
Because spyware exists as independent executable programs, they have the capability to monitor your keystrokes, scan files on the hard drive, snoop other applications, such as chat programs or word processors, install other spyware programs, read cookies, change the default home page on the Web browser, while consistently relaying this information back to the spyware author who will either use it for advertising and marketing purposes or sell the information to another party.
Licensing agreements that accompany software downloads sometimes warn the user that a spyware program will be installed along with the requested software, but the licensing agreements are not always read completely by users because the notice of a spyware installation is often couched in obtuse, hard-to-read legal disclaimers.
While one may not realize they have installed spyware, there are some signs that it exists on your computer. If you notice any changes to your Web browser that you did not make such as extra toolbars or different homepage settings, as well as changes to your security settings and favorites list, you could have spyware running on your system. Other signs of a spyware infection include pop-up ads which aren't related to a Web site you're viewing; usually spyware advertisements are adult content in nature and are not displayed in the same fashion as legitimate ads you would normally see on your favorite Web sites. You may also see advertisements when you're not browsing the Web. Clicking hyperlinks which do not work (or take you somewhere you didn't expect), a sluggish system, or your system taking longer to load the Windows desktop are all signs that your computer may be infected with spyware.
Computer viruses are small software programs that are designed to spread from one computer to another and to interfere with computer operation. A virus might corrupt or delete data on your computer, use your e-mail program to spread itself to other computers, or even erase everything on your hard disk. Viruses are most easily spread by attachments in e-mail messages or instant messaging messages. That is why it is essential that you never open e-mail attachments unless you know who it's from and you are expecting it. Viruses can be disguised as attachments of funny images, greeting cards, or audio and video files. Viruses also spread through downloads on the Internet. They can be hidden in illicit software or other files or programs you might download. To help avoid viruses, it's essential that you keep your computer current with the latest updates and antivirus tools, stay informed about recent threats, and that you follow a few basic rules when you surf the Internet, download files, and open attachments.
In Summary, here are a few tips on how to keep your computer system less vulnerable to Virus Infections:
1. Visit Microsoft Update and check for updates
2. Ensure that your Anti Virus is up-to-date
3. Never open an e-mail attachment from someone you don’t know
4. Avoid opening an e-mail attachment even from someone you know, unless the content sounds reasonable to you. The virus might have sent itself out via the infected computer’s address book
5. Avoid visiting unfamiliar websites
6. Avoid downloading free music, free video, or visiting gaming sites.
7. Scan any CDs, DVDs, and USB Flash Drives / External Drives straight after they are plugged into the computer