Spyware is usually installed without a user's knowledge or permission. However, users may intentionally install spyware without understanding the full ramifications of their actions.

A user may be required to accept an End User Licensing Agreement (EULA), which often does not clearly inform the user about the extent or manner in which information is collected. In such cases, the software is installed without the user's “informed consent.”

Spyware can be installed through the following methods:

  • Downloaded with other Internet downloads In a practice called “bundling.” In many cases, all the licensing agreements may be included in one pop-up window that, unless read carefully, may leave the user unaware of “bundled” spyware.
  • Directly downloaded by users who were persuaded that the technology offers a benefit. Some spyware claims to offer increased productivity, virus scanning capabilities or other benefits.
  • Drive-by downloads In this technique, spyware is installed when a user simply visits a Web site. The user may be prompted to accept the download believing it is necessary in order to view the Web page. Another method is to prompt the user to install the program through pop-up windows that remain open, or download the software regardless of the action taken by the user.
  • Embedded or Attached to e-mail Automatically downloaded when users open or view unsolicited e-mail messages.

Behaviors Associated With Spyware

Spyware can be difficult to detect and remove because it:

  • Does not always appear as a running program in the Window's Task Manager; therefore, the user may be unaware that his or her computer is infected.
  • May not include a removal option in the Windows “Add/Remove Programs” function. When such an option is present, the removal process may not eliminate all components, or it may redirect the user to an Internet site to complete the removal. This often results in new or additional infection rather than removal. In addition, some spyware includes a feature to reinstall itself when any portion is deleted.
  • May cause a further infestation by installing other spyware programs onto users' computers.

Risks Associated With Spyware

Spyware increases the risk to businesses and individuals by:

  • Exploiting security vulnerabilities or settings, changing the computer configuration to relax security settings, or allowing a channel into the institution's systems by circumventing the firewall. The result is that attackers can eavesdrop and intercept sensitive communications by monitoring keystrokes, e-mail and Internet communications. This monitoring may lead to the compromise of sensitive information, including user IDs and passwords.
  • Providing attackers the ability to control corporate computers to send unsolicited “junk” e-mail (SPAM) or malicious software (Malware), or to perform denial of service (DoS) attacks against other organizations.
  • Draining system resources and productivity and consuming system resources, even when the user is not browsing the Internet, such as when adware1 results in voluminous unwanted pop-up advertisements.
  • Compromising the company's ability to conduct business by disrupting Internet connections as a result of the improper removal of spyware.
  • Increasing the incidence of SPAM to corporate and individual e-mail accounts.
  • Compromising confidentiality. Certain types of spyware route all Internet communications through their own servers, often without the user's knowledge. This allows a third party to read sensitive Internet communications even when Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or other encryption protocols are used. Other forms of spyware install an application on the user's computer that monitors and records all Internet communications and sends the report back to the originator. Identity thieves may then impersonate the customer using the IDs and passwords collected.
  • Increasing vulnerability to “phishing” and “pharming” attacks, as some spyware can redirect Internet page requests. Phishing seeks to lure a user to a spoofed Web site using an e-mail that appears to come from a legitimate site. Pharming seeks to redirect a user to a spoofed Web site by introducing false data into a legitimate domain name server (DNS). The spoofed Web sites are set up to collect private customer information, such as account user IDs and passwords. In addition, objectionable or inappropriate information received by the customer from redirected Web sites can ultimately damage the financial institution's reputation.

Preventative Measures

Although there is no foolproof way to protect yourself, DIFS Customers can help prevent and detect spyware by:

  • Installing and periodically updating anti-spyware, virus protection and firewall software.
  • Adjusting browser settings to prompt the user whenever a Web site tries to install a new program or Active-X control.
  • Carefully reading all End User Licensing Agreements and avoiding downloading software when licensing agreements are difficult to understand.
  • Maintaining patches to operating systems and browsers.
  • Not opening e-mail from untrustworthy sources.