How Did I Get Spyware?

Submitted by ptelesco on Fri, 2010-07-16 09:00

How Does Spyware and Adware Get Loaded on my Computer in the First Place?

The most common question we get over and over again pertains to spyware and adware and how it was installed on the computer in the first place. Time and time again, the answer is that it was installed either willingly or unwillingly by the computer owner.

Often the way spyware and adware programs get loaded onto a computer is by the user using the computer. What will happen is the person using the computer will install a program they find or is recommended to them. For the most part, the program will work as promised. But what many miss is what else was installed.

The following links to a comparison chart showing a comparison of some of the more popular file and music sharing programs, and what else they install when they are installed. This is a GOOD Article for those that have time to read the whole thing. For those that don’t – (Summary: If you’re going to use a file sharing program, use limewire as the only ad you will see is an ad promoting the “pay for” upgraded version of limewire. It doesn’t install any other 3rd party software).

Freeware is never “Free”. Remember that statement and think of it every time you are about to download and install a program. True Freeware is often limited or trial version that lasts 30 days or so. You pay for other Freeware in the form of marketing and advertising. Microsoft Windows has recently reacted in an attempt to aid individuals in determining what they should or shouldn’t install. Although the warnings are just that, “warnings” they do prompt the user several times before the actual installation of what could be a very bad thing.

One of the warnings you may see is the Certificate Security Warning. This window requests the user to accept the certificate from the company producing the download. If you accept the certificate, your download will start, or you may get another warning. DO NOT check the “Always trust content from….” Check Box unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure you trust the company. Microsoft, Symantec and McAfee are a few that come to mind that are ok to Always Trust. When unsure, simply accept, but don’t check the Always checkbox.

Security Warning

With the introduction of Service Pack 2, another security warning was introduced alerting the end user that they are installing and ActiveX Component. What is ActiveX? To find out visit but very simply put, it’s a component that Allows certain “things” to happen on your computer that might have previously not been allowed. Opening a port and transmitting personal data and information to a remote IP Address probably isn’t a “thing” most people would allow, but by ignoring the warning it’s possible. If you’re unsure of what you’re installing, open another browser and search for more articles on the product. Include the word “Spyware” in your search and see what you get. In the example below, the ActiveX component belongs to Gator. Although Gator’s website claims to be spyware free, one of the first links you will see is “Advertise With Us”. If you do a general search on or for the term “gator spyware” (without quotes), you will find numerous articles on Gator’s products containing spyware, products to remove Gator and other spyware.

 The previous site might require ActiveX control

And yet another warning prompts you just before you install the program. It says, “Are you sure you want to install this software? Have you done your homework and you’ve checked the publisher and you feel confident that the program you are about to install is trustworthy and will do what it’s supposed to without installing any adware, spyware, viruses, Trojans, malware or hijackers?” Well it doesn’t say all that, and even if it did, it would eventually get overlooked. If you’re like me, you’ve become accustomed to simply clicking install and barely giving the warning a second thought.

The following is a screen shot installing Flash from Macromedia, another trusted vendor.

 Do you want to install this software?

When installing a downloaded software product, be sure and read the fine print. What most have become accustomed to is simply clicking on the “agree” button and clicking next to accept the agreement. If you take the time to read the agreement, in spyware and adware related cases, the agreement states that by accepting you are in fact allowing 3rd party research software to be installed, your private information to be used, shared and/or sold to other agencies, and allowing the research and marketing ads to run on your computer such as pop-ups or home page hijacks and re-directs.

Read too what you are downloading. In some cases even legitimate downloads will ask you if you want to install another product at the same time. This can come in the form of a toolbar or other application that is supposed to help you. But over time, you can have so many different toolbars that they end up taking up most of your browser’s window. When I went to Macromedia’s site to download Flash, I noticed that by default the download was going to install Yahoo toolbar as well. I didn’t want the toolbar, but needed the flash. Both programs are okay to use by the way, I just prefer not to use Yahoo toolbar. By removing the checkmark to download and install the Yahoo toolbar, I was able to download just the Flash plug-in. This way I was able to get Flash (a free and useful tool) and not download or install any extras that I didn’t want, spyware or otherwise.

The fact is the security measures are in place but the software designed to protect us isn’t as smart as us and needs our researched and constructive input to make the decision. If you have any doubts, take the time to read the fine print and do some research. After all, you are sitting in front of one of the largest research tools known.