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Security Awareness

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One Little Click Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Spyware:“Free” Downloads Come with a Big Risk

Popup: Would you like to accept this free offer?

One little click can ruin your whole day.

Many tempting offers call out from the Internet. Media players, browser enhancers, or funny animation can all be downloaded with the simple click of a button. However, users downloading free software applications, or “freeware,” don’t often realize the potentially damaging consequences these programs can bring. Before you accept another free download, remember that you might also be gaining some new “spyware” with that freeware. It’s a trade-off you don’t want. Spyware is designed to invade your privacy and even steal some of your most valuable personal information.

The goal of this article is to:

  • Help you learn more about spyware.
  • Equip you with tips to recognize the symptoms of an infection.
  • Help rid your computer of spyware and protect it from future infections.

What Is Spyware?

As the name implies, spyware is a sneaky software program that slips into your computer and gathers information about both your online activity and the information stored in your computer, like your passwords. This is one way identity theft can happen. The worst part is that you might not even be aware of spyware running in your computer. Security experts generally classify spyware as a software program that installs itself without a user's permission and without clearly or honestly telling users what personal information it gathers or how it uses your information. According to the research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), 67 percent of all computers are infected with some form of spyware.

Adware performs many of the same functions as spyware and they are often used in tandem with one another. Like spyware, adware will transmit information about your computer use to marketers, but it will also launch pop-up advertisements in your browser for products that match the sites you’ve visited or the searches you’ve performed.

Should I Really Care?

In addition to the invasion of your privacy, some spyware can drastically modify your Web browsing experience by changing your browser preferences and adding sites to your “Favorites” list without your knowledge. Spyware may also cause application crashes, slow system performance, and frequent system errors.

How Can I Get Infected by Spyware?

Most spyware applications hitch a ride on those “too good to be true” free software downloads found all over the Internet. Promises of enhanced Web browsing or beautiful screensavers that are fulfilled by the click of an “Accept Install” button, might be masking a spyware infestation.

Marketscore, formerly known as NetSetter, is one such sneaky software that has found its way into many computers because users were lured by its promise of increased browser speed. Another, more insidious way spyware makes its way into computers is through a scam that encourages users to download a software application that promises spyware removal, when actually it installs it!

How Can I Tell If My Computer Is Infected with Spyware?

Some signs that may indicate the presence of spyware on your computer include the following:

  • Unexplained slowdowns or interruptions in your network connections.
  • Redirections to Web sites that were not the sites you requested.
  • Your computer is slow to start up or begins to freeze or crash frequently.
  • Browser irregularities such as unusual delays in loading pages or unexplained changes to your home page or list of favorite sites.
  • Searches and links don't work as expected.
  • A proliferation of pop-up advertisements when you visit sites that wouldn’t normally generate them.

Windows users seem more vulnerable to spyware infections than Macintosh computer users.

How Can I Protect My Computer?

Prevention is the best way to protect your computer.

  • One way to protect your computer is to make a habit of scanning the fine print before downloading any software. If you see anything that refers to monitoring browsing sessions or collecting information, this is your “red flag” that you might be installing spyware.
  • Do not install free software or shareware if you are unsure about the reliability of the site offering it. Be cautious if a download prompts you to accept the installation of additional software.
  • Keep your system software, anti-virus software and firewall software up-to-date with BevoWare. The programs included in BevoWare will protect you against some spyware.
  • Check the BevoWare site regularly for updates on anti-spyware software.

How Can I Get Rid of Spyware?

Okay, so what do you do if you’ve already been infected? Fortunately, students, faculty, and staff of The University of Texas at Austin can download tools from the BevoWare site that can identify and remove Spyware. Examples of spyware removal software available in BevoWare include Spybot Search and Destroy and SpywareBlaster. Read the information on downloading and running each anti-spyware tool listed in BevoWare's security section. After you have installed BevoWare’s anti-spyware software, your computer will monitor for and block any potential adware, spyware, or other types of malware installations. If the spyware infestation is too advanced, you may be required to bring your computer into the ITS HelpDesk located in the the Flawn Academic Center (FAC).

If your Macintosh is showing symptoms of being infected with spyware, check the links below under Learn More for information on Macintosh anti-spyware programs or contact the ITS Help Desk for assistance.

Learn More

The University of Texas information sites

External sites providing information on spyware