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 The Computer Buzz January 20, 2011     

Nome and Paul Van Middlesworth - owners - The Computer Factory

What’s Malware and What Does it Do?

Malware (spyware, adware and viruses) are a huge headache for PC users today. Their effect runs from sluggish performance and annoying pop-ups to fraud, identity theft and corruption of the operating system. Malware originates primarily in nations where governments protect or ignore the activities of Internet criminals. Eastern Europe and the old USSR republics are real hotspots. China also contributes its share.

In 2010 over 20 million new malware programs were released. That number represents a third of all the malware programs written in the past 20 years. Anti-malware program makers like Norton, Panda, AVG and Kaspersky detect and develop countermeasures within hours of a new threat’s release. Consequently, the malware makers are forced to modify the software and change host sites frequently. The average lifespan of any specific malware program today is measured in hours. In years past many viruses hung around for months.

Spyware, adware and viruses are similar in nature. All are designed to use your computer’s resources to accomplish some purpose. For a true virus, that purpose is to clone itself, disrupt your operation and then move on to other computers through some media or network contact. A true virus is deliberately destructive.

Spyware/ad-ware program writers put their genius to more practical use. Their payoff is money. They don’t want to interfere with the operation of your PC and they don’t even want you to know they’re around. They know you will take defensive measures if you know they’re in your PC so they maintain a low profile. For simplicity, we treat spyware and adware as a single entity but there are subtle differences.

Spyware uses your computer to gather information about you and your Internet browsing. The creator then uses or sells this information. In its mildest form spy-ware compiles data on your Internet surfing patterns and sells that data to companies who then market their products to you through pop-up ads and other forms of solicitation. At its worst, spy-ware may attempt to decode your passwords and bank or credit card information for the purpose of fraud or identity theft.

Ad-ware seeks to interest you in purchasing products or visiting the websites of its clients by exposing you to their ads or by “Hijacking” your home page or browser. In a more sinister form, it may direct your PC to “pay for view” sites without your knowledge and surprise you with a staggering month end invoice.

While it’s not the intent of adware or spyware to interfere with the function or performance of your computer, each of these programs consume some amount of your PCs resources. While the effect of any single spyware or adware program on the performance of your PC may be negligible, when a few hundred or thousand (not at all uncommon) of these programs invade your PC, the effect can be profound. These programs may conflict with one another or with your own programs and device drivers causing freeze-up or blue-screens. At a minimum they will rob your PC of resources causing it to slow down.

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