What is the Difference between Malware, Adware and Spyware

What is the Difference between Malware, Adware and Spyware

Trend Micro’s ‘Computer World Article’, dated 16th January 2004, estimated that computer viruses costed world businesses around $55 billion in 2003. On a more personal front, I spent an entire month’s salary to sort out my laptop, when it became obvious that it had become a virus breeding center. I have neutered my laptop now with a good detection and removal software package, but it still keeps me in a state of anticipatory worry. Some problem areas are malwares, adwares, spywares and computer viruses. Today I will try to give an in-depth coverage of information on three of these data security threats – namely malwares, adwares and spywares.

According to F-secure, the year 2007 has seen more production of malware that the previous 20 years, all put together. Malware is a linguistic blend of the two words, ‘malicious’ and ‘software’. These softwares are designed with the intent to harm a computer system, through a sneaky infiltration. Malwares are hostile, annoying computer codes that intrude in the working of a computer system, without the owner’s consent. Malwares are considered a computer contaminant legally in several US states. They enter a computer system through the pathways of the world wide web.

Malwares were initially just pranks, but were later on backed by hostile intent and led to vandalism. Malwares harm the computer and results in loss of data. They are capable of destroying the files stored in the computer hard disk. Some even take over the computer’s control and make the user’s computer a host for contraband data, and engage in automatic sending of spam mails, etc. Malwares are also dangerous when the malware creator installs a key logger in its programming code. This registers the user’s keystrokes when he enters passwords, personal and professional information, banking details, etc. This can lead to Internet scams, frauds and thefts.

Malwares are malicious codes that include viruses, worms, trojan horses, etc. Virus and worms are two best known types of malwares. They differ in their speed of infestation – viruses spread with the execution of infected software, while worms actively multiply and transmit themselves over the network. Kraken Botnet, the Storm Worm, April Fool’s Day and Zotob are some well known malwares.

Adwares are softwares that display unsolicited advertisements, that pop-up at occasional intervals and unnecessarily pester the user. Some adwares are also types of spywares, especially when they decipher the user’s web surfing history and display relevant advertisements only. Adwares also exhibit other spyware-type behaviors, like reporting on a user’s website visits, etc. This collected data is often used for advertising impressions selected to be targeted at the user.

Though the goal of adware creators is not to damage, adwares can be extremely persistent in their pop ups, and the computer user is likely to get irritated with them. Many adware distributing companies generate revenues from their adwares, by noting the history of sites visited by users, and then throwing specific ads, that pertain to their area of interest, at them. The best way to deal with adwares is, not to click on the pop-up ads, delete strange email attachments and install adware removal/blocking softwares on your computers. Bonzi Buddy, Gator, Kazaa and Zango are some famous adwares.

Spyware in simple words, generally applies to privacy invading softwares. Spyware is a strictly for-profit malware, that is encoded to track users’ web browsing habits and display unsolicited advertisements, with the intention of redirecting users to other websites. They directly help in the generation of marketing revenues for the spyware creator. Spywares do not spread like viruses, and are in fact installed on users’ computers by exploiting security loopholes and OS (operating system) design defects. They even come in packages with other user friendly softwares and get automatically activated on the user’s computer, when the software is installed. Spywares are also often dropped as a payload by worms.

Spywares are sneakily installed on computer systems to collect user and computer information without the user’s knowledge and consent. Some spywares can interfere with the user’s control on his computer by installing new softwares on its own and by redirecting web browser activity. They are capable of redirecting search engine results pages to paid advertisements. Spywares can effect a change in computer settings and result in slow Internet connection speed, loss of Internet functionality and changes in home page settings as well. Unlike viruses and worms, spywares do not self-replicate, but just like them, they exploit infected computers for commercial gain.

The problem with spywares is that they are often downloaded onto their system, by clueless users, as distributors often present them as useful and harmless utilities. Unfortunately, with its own threats, spywares also open up the computer to other attacks, as they create entrance holes in the system. Spywares are thus, rarely the lone infections on a computer; and when a spyware is noticed, it is best to go for a complete system clean up. Their dangers include unwanted and erratic computer behavior, unwanted CPU activity, additional usage of memory and an unnecessary increase in network traffic, along with problems like application freezing, booting failures, system-wide crashes, etc.

‘Phishing’ is similar to spywares and is considered as a Internet crime. It uses social engineering, to make users volunteer their personal information while filling of forms. Famous examples of spywares are CoolWebSearch, Internet Optimizer (DyFuCa) and Movieland (Moviepass.tv or Popcorn.net).

All Three – Compare and Contrast
Adwares are the best way to offer applications for free or at a low cost. Spywares are a progression of adwares that produce more targeted advertisements. Malwares send out automatic email spams and redirect users to unintended sites. Adwares and spywares progress to malicious softwares (malwares), if they start to affect computer activity actively, instead of just showing passive advertisements to the user. It is basically the intent that separates the three – spywares are for privacy invasion, adwares are for revenue generation through pop up advertisements and malwares cause harm to a user’s computer system, borne out of pranks or personal and professional vendettas.

All three are harmful to your computer systems. While some are mere nuisances, others are active parasites that can seriously damage your computer. It is best to get spyware removal programs installed on your system as soon as possible. It is one of the effective ways to get rid of them.



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