Computer Tips: What Are Spyware, Trojans, And Viruses?

Try as we might to deny it, our computers are vulnerable to attack. Even the tightest security measures may not catch every malicious trick. The three most common threats to computers are trojans, viruses and spyware. However, they are not all the same...

Try as we might to deny it, our computers are vulnerable to attack. Even the tightest security measures may not catch every malicious trick. The three most common threats to computers are trojans, viruses and spyware. However, they are not all the same, nor are they created equal.

Trojans are a means of delivery of a virus. They may look like something safe (a letter, a picture, a funny exe file), but in reality, they are hiding a virus of some kind. They may even seem to come from someone the user trusts, but they are really "spoofs" "" that is, the program picked up an address from the user's address book and stuck it in the "from" line of the e-mail. They are most commonly transmitted through e-mail. Usually, if the user deletes the e-mail without opening it, the computer will be safe.

A virus is that nasty thing we hear about on television all the time. Viruses can range from inconvenient to downright destructive. They can also be devilishly hard to remove from a PC, once established. Viruses are programs written with no other purpose than to destroy or manipulate data.



They can do things like erase all files on a computer with a certain file extension, cause the computer to execute certain tasks on a particular date, cause problems with shutting down and restarting the computer, change the Registry settings, and all manner of uncomfortable, irritating, nasty things.

Worms are viruses that multiply. They are designed to replicate. Usually, they do this by sending copies of themselves to everyone in the user's address book. Worms are responsible for the large-scale interruptions in service because they clog servers and overwhelm systems.

A computer user should purchase some kind of anti-virus software, use it and update it regularly. Some makers have software that updates itself automatically from the Internet, which is handy, and there is some free anti-virus software available, as well. However, no computer that has an Internet connection should go naked. Always install some kind of anti-virus software.

The best AVS will identify, quarantine and repair viruses. Some AVS makers have web sites that offer removal tools for particularly common, and/or destructive viruses. These are small .exe files that the user downloads and can execute at any time. They scan the computer for any sign of the particular virus, and they remove it from the system. Some web sites also have procedures the user can follow to remove the virus himself.

Spyware is a whole other category. Often grouped with "adware," these are files that allow various companies to view a user's browsing activity, see what they buy and send them horribly annoying "pop-up" ads. Spyware and adware can slow down a PC, cause it to crash and record credit card numbers. Most Internet users are infected with these files. Users who are just surfing, reading email, downloading music or other files can infect their PCs unknowingly. These programs can also change browser settings, homepages and otherwise affect Internet activity.

The best way to deal with these threats is to get a spyware blaster. These are available for free on the Internet. Two good ones are Ad-Aware and Spybot. These programs will scan a computer and alert the user of anything on it that looks like spyware. The user can then elect to delete it or not. Spybot will also detect Registry changes and fix those, as well.

Mailwasher is another freeware program that helps keep computers from being infected. It allows the user to view and delete e-mails before they are ever downloaded onto the computer. It will even flag spam and possible viruses. It is a useful program and can help users get rid of infected e-mails before they even get to the hard drive.

It cannot be stressed too strongly that a user's best protection against these kinds of malicious programs include good software and common sense. The user should never open files that look suspicious, and should run regular virus scans on his computer, as well as be sensitive to it doing those things that are noticeably out of the ordinary. As with any other infection, leaving it untreated makes it worse, and it may decide to invite other infections along for the ride. Users should buy good anti-virus software, update it and scan their machines regularly.

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