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Trojans, spyware, and worms, Oh my!!

By Betty Burlingame


In computers, a Trojan horse is a program in which malicious or harmful code is contained inside apparently harmless programming or data in such a way that it can get control and do its chosen form of damage, such as ruining the file allocation table on your hard disk, or modifying your registry keys, which can cripple and even stop your computer's normal functions. In one celebrated case, a Trojan horse was disguised as an antivirus program that was supposed to find and destroy computer viruses, which is the most insidious type of Trojan horse; a program claiming to rid your computer of viruses but instead introduces viruses onto your computer. A Trojan horse may also be widely redistributed as part of a computer virus. A worm was carried in an attachment file called "PentagonSecret.xls.exe" and the e-mail’s body text asked: "Do you believe you are safe from the Pentagon of the E.U? Just look this data and you will be surprised".

“Social engineering” preys upon people's fears and innate curiosity. It is a marketing science commonly used by malware authors because it is so difficult to combat. It is easy to use social engineering to dupe people into revealing personal information or to subjecting themselves to these predators of the internet. Similar social engineering tactics have often been used in the past. In 2003 a virus was disguised as pictures of Julia Roberts in a compromising position. Likewise a recent Trojan horse was sent out in an email claiming to show pictures of Osama Bin Laden committing suicide. The biggest challenge is to get people out of the habit of clicking on links that are emailed to them. Users need to be taught not to open attachments or click on random links. It is very hard to solve this problem because people who prey on other's weaknesses will always be among us, and technology will never replace freedom of choice.


A common problem plaguing online users is the introduction of spyware on their systems. Some computers have as many as 1200 different spyware items on them. Spyware is a way for shareware authors to make money from a product, rather than by selling it to users. While this may be a great concept in theory, the downside is that the advertising companies also install additional tracking software on your system, which is continuously "calling home", using your Internet connection and reports statistical data to someone else. While according to the privacy policies of the companies, there will be no sensitive or identifying data collected from your system and you shall remain anonymous, you have a "live" server sitting on your PC that is sending information about you and your surfing habits to a remote location. At that location your personal browsing habit information is stored and disseminated to other companies who buy the information in hopes of reselling it to companies who are looking for data on people's buying and browsing habits.

Not all adware products are spyware, but the majority is. Spyware is not illegal, but there are certain issues which most users may object to, such as tracking and sending data and statistics via a server installed on the user's PC and the use of your Internet connection to send the information in the background, without your consent or knowledge. While legitimate adware companies will disclose the nature of data that is collected and transmitted in their privacy statement, there is almost no way for the user to actually control what data is being sent. The fact is that the technology is in theory capable of sending much more than just basic browsing statistics - and this is why many people feel uncomfortable with the idea. Millions of people are using advertising supported "spyware" products and aren't concerned about the privacy hype. In fact some spyware programs are among the most popular downloads on the Internet.

Computer virus

All computer viruses are manmade. It is a program or piece of code that is loaded onto your computer and runs without your knowledge or intervention. A simple virus can replicate itself over and over again and is relatively easy to produce. A virus can quickly use all available memory and bring your system to a grinding halt. Some viruses are capable of transmitting themselves across networks and bypassing security systems. A few of the latest viruses are:

1. Win32:Mydoom-M is another mass mailing worm. It spreads by sending infected E-mails. It fakes the sender of the infected mail address. It also drops a Trojan horse on infected computer.

2. Win32:Sasser is a network worm that spreads by exploiting the Microsoft LSASS vulnerability. It does not spread via e-mail.

3. Win32:Netsky-B is a worm, spreading as an email attachment or by P2P networks file sharing.

According to a study reported in the Washington Post "most computer users think they are safe but lack basic protections against viruses, spyware, hackers and other online threats. In addition, large majorities of home computer users have been infected with viruses and spyware and remain highly vulnerable to future infections. Yet at the same time, most keep sensitive personal and financial information on their computers." “Seventy-seven percent said they thought their computer was very or somewhat safe from threats, with 73 percent saying the same for viruses. Three in five said they feel very or somewhat safe from hackers. At the same time, 67 percent of those surveyed had outdated anti-virus software, with 15 percent lacking any anti-virus software. The study also found that 80 percent of the PC users had spyware or adware on their systems; with most not even knowing the software had been installed. Sixty-seven percent don't have firewall protection, with half of the broadband users surfing the Net firewall-free.” With the findings, USA Today said, "a picture emerges of consumers increasingly using their home PCs for sensitive, online transactions without adequately protecting themselves from cybercrime.’ Most people think they're safe, but they really don't know what's on their computer, and boy, are they vulnerable,' says AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein."

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