The line between all different forms of PC security issues has blurred over the years mostly because there are so many different types and there are so many different people giving uneducated opinions. Spyware and Adware and all the other forms of malware (malicious software) can be confusing and downright scary. In order to assist in demystifying malware, I have created a simple resource section with some basic definitions to assist getting the facts about malware clear. This is a general description the various forms of malware, a simple and concise explanation for the average computer user.
Adware – Adware is form of client-side ad serving software that delivers advertising to consumers. So if you download some “free” game or music, you are in all likelihood getting some adware with it. The adware will display ads that may interest you (or may annoy you) but they are generally harmless and they are the cost of the free game.
Desktop Media – Desktop media consists of a downloaded application that includes adware. Reputable adware discloses that it is adware during the download process, and provides for an easy uninstall facility.
Freeware – Freeware is software that can be downloaded and shared at no cost. Most freeware is copyrighted so programmers cannot use it in software they are developing. Adware is an advertising-supported version of freeware whose effects can range from benign advertisements into more threatening forms of spyware.
Parasiteware – Parasiteware is the term for any adware that by default overwrites affiliate tracking links. This behavior is viewed as parasitic because this software diverts affiliate commissions and credits the affiliate’s income to another party. To the end user, parasiteware is not a serious security threat.
Spyware – Spyware is the dark side in the online advertising family. It is a software program that aids an unauthorized third party in gathering information about a user without his or her knowledge and consent, and then relaying the information back to that unauthorized third party. Spyware may arrive bundled with freeware or shareware, through peer-to-peer downloads, attached to or embedded in e-mail or instant messenger communications, or may be placed on your computer accidentally or deliberately by someone with access to it. Once on your system, spyware secretly installs itself and goes to work. Unlike personalization or session cookies, spyware is difficult to detect, and difficult for the average user to remove.
Thiefware – Thiefware applications steal affiliate commissions by either overwriting tracking cookies or spawning new windows to redirect traffic from search engine keywords or other Web sites. This practice, while not currently illegal, is considered unethical among those in the merchant/affiliate community.
Trojan Horses – Trojans are malicious programs that appear as harmless or desirable applications. Trojans are designed to be actively harmful to PCs by intentionally damaging PC operating systems, other software or hard drives. Trojans are generally distributed as e-mail attachments or bundled with another software program (often fraudulent versions of legitimate software).
Uninstaller – A program specifically written to remove a software program, most often included with the original program. Windows users can usually also uninstall programs through the Add/Remove Programs icon on their Control Panels. While most uninstallers come with legitimate programs, many privacy advocates consider uninstallers that do not remove all elements of a program (whether due to poorly written or maliciously coded) to be invasive and a possible indicator of Spyware.
Virus – A virus is a piece of programming code inserted into other programming to cause some unexpected and usually undesirable event, such as lost or damaged files. Viruses can be transmitted by downloading programming from other sites or be present on a diskette. The source of the file you’re downloading or accessing from a diskette you’ve received is often unaware of the virus. The virus lies dormant until circumstances cause its code to be executed by the computer.
Web Bugs – A file, usually a small or invisible graphic image, that is placed on a Web page or in e-mail to allow a third party to monitor user behavior. While some businesses employ these as a valid tool for tracking Web performance, because users cannot see Web bugs, they are considered a form of Spyware. Unlike cookies, Web bugs cannot be rejected by changing the settings on a Web browser.
Now understand, this is not the most technical description of each of these different items but I think after you read this you are going to have a good feel for what each is and the risks associated with them. Remember, in the end, the best thing you can do is to maintain good, up-to-date antivirus software. I suggest checking out some of the free antivirus products that are available or our complete listing of antivirus software.