6 Common Ways Your Information Can Be Compromised

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Contributed by Gaston Bedard
6 Common Ways Your Information Can Be Compromised
By Ryan C. Williams
As you read about viruses and all the other critters used on the internet to
ferret out your passwords and personal information, you should remember that
they’re really just a means to an end. So what’s the end? That depends on
the goal of the program writer. Some critters are written to annoy; others
are written to destroy.
Basics of viruses
A virus is a type of little program that loads onto your computer without
your knowing it and then starts running amok.
A virus can replicate itself and pass itself along to infect other computers
– but only by burying itself inside something larger, such as a Microsoft
Word
document or the programming code of a piece of software, which then takes a
ride to another computer on a disk, or as an e-mail attachment, or by some
other
method of file transfer.
In replicating themselves, viruses sometimes do their damage by making so
many copies of themselves that they fill up your computer’s memory and cause
it to
crash.
In many cases, the replication and spread of a virus are secondary to its
primary function, which is to perform some other task (sometimes harmless,
sometimes electronically fatal) inside your computer.
For example, a more malicious virus may take complete control of your
computer and order it to do something horrible like delete its own hard
drive.
Other viruses are intended as mere pranks: A good example is the Merry
Christmas virus that simply flashes a harmless season’s greeting on your
screen in
December – end of story. Or so you think, but now it’s April Fools’ Day and
the Merry Christmas virus doesn’t let you boot up your computer. Ha-ha-ha!
Basics of worms
Forgive the analogy, but think tapeworms – the ones your mom always thought
you had in your gut when you were a kid. Here’s why the analogy is so
fitting. Worms
are similar to viruses in that they can copy themselves and do bad things to
the computers they invade.
Worms are also notorious loners, though, so they generally don’t attach
themselves to the programming code of files or dig deeply in the
out-of-the-way corners of disks or hard drives, as viruses do.
Instead, worms send copies of themselves over the Internet directly or they
can hitch a ride in an e-mail message.
Basics of macro viruses
A macro virus is a unique virus: Rather than be its own little program or
application, it makes its appearance in the form of a macro embedded in a
document file.
Some experts claim that nearly three-quarters of all viruses are macro
viruses, in part because they can embed themselves in your software and
attach themselves
to every document you create, which allows them to spread easily to others.
To understand macro viruses, you first have to understand macros. Many
software applications, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, allow you to
create macros,
which are nothing more than a way to record long series of commands and then
repeat the series of commands over and over again with just a keystroke or
two.
In some cases, macros add themselves to your default document template so
that they’re executed automatically every time you open an existing document
or
create a new one.
That’s how most macro viruses spread so quickly: Every time you create a new
document in Word, the document is based on a default template named
Normal.dotm that can contain font choices, margin
settings, and, yes, even macros and macro viruses. If a macro virus is in
your default template, you spread the virus
every time you open or create a new document.
Basics of trojan horses
A Trojan horse program tricks you into loading and running it by pretending
to be something that it’s not. (Surely you remember this story from Greek
mythology.) The perfect example of a Trojan horse is a
file that masquerades as an antivirus software patch but is really a virus.
Some Trojan horses are coupled with other types of viruses, such as macro
viruses, which then generate new Trojan horses that are passed along to
others.
Basics of bots
After a malicious entity infects a computer, it can gather computers
together to perform specific tasks, like spam several million e-mail
accounts or try to take down a server. An infected computer is a bot,
and many bots gather to form botnets. It’s not bad enough that your computer
is infected – botnets are like zombie armies gathered to perform hideous
tasks (and probably gather more victims like
themselves).
Basics of spyware
Computer privacy experts define spyware as any piece of software that
gathers information and uses your Internet connection to send that
information somewhere else on your computer without your
knowledge or approval. But why does the spyware do this?
In many cases, the spyware is gathering information about you and your
activities on your computer and sending that data back to the software
manufacturer or some other data-collection company so that it can know more
about you.

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