The 3 Levels of Spyware: Do you still control your computer?

Has spyware taken over your computer? Learn the 3 levels of spyware to know for sure…

“The only difference between the fool, and the criminal who attacks a system is that the fool attacks unpredictably and on a broader front." (Tom Gilb)

It doesn’t matter if your computer is compromised by professional villains or just by the geeky kid across the street, once your sensitive files have been broken into your life may never be the same. Spyware is one of the most unrated forms of "espionage" occurring in the world today.

Most computer users think of this kind of program as a being just as an annoying or embarrassing kind of prank. But criminal-minded programmers know better.

In the past, spyware and its close cousin adware were simply wicked bits of "paid advertisements" for shady website publishers to attract customers. But soon, more malicious coders determined to use these programs to really "spy" on innocent people and dig out as many of their victim's secrets to use or sell on the black market as possible.

These new programs are being crafted by "professional" development teams just like a "real" software company. The programs are sophisticated and slick.

At its most innocent level, these spy packages just track your browsing habits (where you go and what you do on the web). Your email addresses are also raided. This information is then sold to websites for advertising.

At an intermediate level, a "keystroke" logger (a program that observes and records what you type on your keyboard) can be used in combination with web-tracking software to dig out the keywords, passwords and usernames you use when visiting sites such as eBay, PayPal and your bank.

The final level is in which spyware has completely overwhelmed your computer and all your sensitive information is laid-bare to any prying eyes that want to view it. Your ID/SSN numbers, your home address, personal photographs, your banking or other financial information is dug out and sold to the highest bidder.

This is then used to create everything from fake driver's licenses for teenagers, terrorists, and illegals to making dupe credit cards used to run up charges under your name. Your "identity" has been stolen and compromised for years to come.

Your computer can be turned into a "zombie" and thousands and thousands of fake emails could be sent through your connection to the Internet. This will result in your ISP (Internet Service Provider) taking action and limiting or shutting down your account. And with unpaid charges bouncing about your credit card report will soon be in a shambles as well.

What you should do now to lock down your PC...

  • Download from the Net or buy a good anti-spyware software package. For free try Ad-Aware or SpyBot's S&D. Or use SpySweeper if you need an industrial strength cleaner.
  • Scan your hard drive and follow any instructions on removing items.
  • Install a good personal firewall program to slow down pop-ups and other nastiness.
  • Password protect any personal folders where sensitive documents, photos, etc are stored.
  • Download and install a password storage program like "Password Safe" to securely store your usernames and passcodes.
  • Use strong passwords.
  • Change passwords every 6 months for your bank, eBay, PayPal and other financial institutions.