Frequently Asked Questions about computer and Internet security:


Malware is a general term referring to malicious software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner's informed consent. Malware includes viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, adware and other malicious code.

A virus is self replicating malicious code. Viruses attach themselves to or "infect" operating system files or program components.

A worm is self replicating malicious code that is capable of affecting a system without attaching itself to existing programs.  Worms usually do not attempt to damage a system, although they may do so inadvertently, but rather they prefer to stay hidden and steal network bandwidth.  

Trojan horses are malicious programs that appear as harmless or desirable applications or they can be hidden or embedded in legitimate programs.  Some Trojan horses, called RATs (Remote Administration Tools), give attackers unrestricted access to your computer whenever you are online. The attacker can perform activities such as file transfers, adding or deleting files and programs, and controlling your mouse and keyboard. Trojan horses are distributed as email attachments, or they can be bundled with other software programs.

When you visit Web sites or open email attachments, tracking programs can be installed on your computer without your knowledge. Spyware infects an estimated 90% of all Internet-connected computers. Most spyware is designed to track your Web browsing and online purchasing habits, but some programs can leave you vulnerable to identity theft, data corruption, or personal profiling.

Adware is advertising-supported software that displays pop-up advertisements whenever the program is running. Often the software is available online for free, and the advertisements create revenue for the company. Although it's seemingly harmless (aside from the intrusiveness and annoyance of pop-up ads), adware can install components onto your computer that track personal information (including your age, sex, location, buying preferences, or surfing habits) for marketing purposes.

Most advertising-supported software doesn't inform you when it installs adware on your system. Adware does require initial consent from you, but in many cases the software will not function without the adware component. Some adware can infiltrate your computer even though you decline the installation.

Adware Cookies
Cookies are pieces of software that Web sites store on your hard drive when you visit a site. Some cookies exist just to save you time-for example, when you check a box for a Web site to remember your password on your computer. But some sites now deposit adware cookies, which store personal information (like your surfing habits, usernames and passwords, and areas of interest) and share the information with other Web sites. This sharing of information allows marketing firms to create a user profile based on your personal information and sell it to other firms.

Adware cookies are installed and accessed without your knowledge or consent.

System Monitors
These programs monitor your computer activity. System monitors can capture virtually everything you do on your computer, from keystrokes, emails, and chat room dialogue, to which sites you visit and which programs you run. System monitors usually run in the background so that you don't know you're being watched. The information gathered by the system monitor is stored on your computer in an encrypted log file for later retrieval. Some programs can even email the log files to another location.

There has been a recent wave of system monitoring tools disguised as email attachments or free software products.