» FAQ



Frequently Asked Questions

1.What is a firewall?

2.Why do I need a firewall?

3.What is a Computer Virus?

4.Do I really need an Anti-virus?

5.What is Ad-ware?

6.Is Ad-ware dangerous?

7.What is Spyware?

8.What is a Trojan?

9.How can Spyware end up in my computer?

10.What are the consequences of Spyware activity?

11.Do I need an Anti-Spyware?

What is a firewall?

When your computer is connected to the Internet, it receives traffic from a wide range of sources, most of it benign. Your instant messaging client alerts you that a friend has signed on; your mail client finds new mail waiting for you and downloads it; a weather site refreshes its rainfall map by telling your web browser to reload a page. All of this traffic is handled invisibly by your computer, which is listening to a large number of "ports." A port is a specific connection point through which applications on your computer connect to the Internet. And a hacker only needs one open port through which to mount an attack.

A firewall is a piece of software that monitors all incoming network traffic and allows in only the connections that are known and trusted.

You could manually grant or restrict access to each of the 65,535 ports available under the Internet Protocol. Every time you add a new program that requires Internet access, you would need to determine which port(s) it uses, and reconfigure your computer accordingly. There are better ways to spend your time.

Firewall software takes on this burden for you, allowing access to the ports you need open, and closing off those you don't. It also makes your computer "invisible" on the Internet; if hackers can't find you, they will have a hard time attacking you.

More advanced firewall software also monitors outgoing traffic. This is crucial since malicious code spreads by accessing the Internet and pushing copies of itself to other computers (often those of your friends and family!). Outbound protection can keep even brand-new Trojan horses and spy-ware from doing their damaging work. The ultimate protection is program-level control, so that only those applications that you trust are allowed to access the Internet.

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Why do I need a firewall?

Without a firewall, your computer is operating under an "open door" policy. Bank account information. Passwords. Credit card numbers. Documents and photos that you don't want to share with the world. They are all available to anyone with bad intentions and basic computer skills. Hackers can get in, take what they want, and even leave open a "back door" so they use it to attack other computers.

Every minute that your computer is connected to the Internet, either through a dial-up (modem) connection or through a broadband (DSL or cable) service, it is at risk.

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What Is a Computer Virus?

A computer virus is a program that has the unique ability to replicate. Like biological viruses, computer viruses can spread quickly and are often difficult to eradicate. They can attach themselves to just about any type of file and are spread as files that are copied and sent from individual to individual.

Besides replication, some computer viruses have something else in common: a "damage routine", i.e. a piece of software, that can deliver the virus payload. While payloads may only display messages or images, they can also destroy files, reformat your hard drive, or cause other kinds of damage. If the virus doesn’t contain a damage routine, it can still cause trouble by taking up storage space and memory, and downgrading the overall performance of your computer.

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Do I really need an Anti-virus?

Virtually, no one who uses Windows-based computers is immune from viruses. Every time your computer handles a new file, chances are that it could be infected. In particular, that is the case when you open attachments in your emails, when you download a program from the Internet or when you copy a file from one computer to another. Unless your computer is completely isolated from the outside world, which would make it pretty useless, the risk of infections are quite high.

There are 60,000 to 70,000 active viruses and worms, with 10,000 new ones appearing every year. Nearly all are designed to infect Windows PCs. That means that Mac users don't need anti-virus protections because their machines can not run any program written for Windows, including viruses.

At the moment, it's safe to say that a Mac user would need an anti-virus only when a Windows emulator like Virtual PC is used. That would be required to protect the Windows environment only, because Windows-viruses can not run and damage OS X.

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What is Ad-ware?

"Ad-ware" or "advertising-supported software" is any software application in which advertisements are displayed while the program is running. These applications include additional code that displays the ads in pop-up windows or through a bar that appears on a computer screen. Ad-ware helps recover programming development costs, and helps to hold down the price of the application for the user (even making it free of charge)--and, of course, it can give programmers a profit, which helps to motivate them to write, maintain, and upgrade valuable software.

Some ad-ware is also "shareware", in that users are given the option to pay for a "registered" or "licensed" copy, which typically does away with the advertisements.

Some ad-ware programs have been criticized for occasionally including code that tracks a user's personal information and passes it on to third parties, without the user's authorization or knowledge. This practice has been dubbed "spy-ware".

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Is Ad-ware dangerous?

While Ad-ware may be a great concept, the downside is that very often the advertising companies also install additional tracking software on your system, which is continuously "calling home", using your Internet connection and reports statistical data to the "mothership". While according to the privacy policies of the companies, there will be no sensitive or identifying data collected from your system and you shall remain anonymous, it still remains the fact, that you have a "live" server sitting on your PC that is sending information about you and your surfing habits to a remote location.

It is safe to say that not all ad-ware products are spy-ware, but the vast majority are. When ad-ware becomes spy-ware your privacy is at risk.

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What is Spyware?

Strictly speaking, "spy-ware" is computer software that gathers information about a computer user without the user's knowledge or informed consent, and then transmits this information to an organisation that expects to be able to profit from it in some way. Data-collecting programs installed with the user's knowledge are not, technically speaking, spy-ware, if the user fully understands what data is being collected and with whom it is being shared.

More broadly, the term spy-ware is applied to a wide range of related "mal-ware" products which are not spy-ware in the strict sense. These products perform many different functions, including the delivery of unrequested advertising (pop-ups in particular), harvesting private information, re-routing page requests to illegally claim commercial site referral fees, hijacking the web browser homepage and installing stealth phone dialers.

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What is a Trojan Horse?

A Trojan Horse is a particular category of spy-ware. A Trojan is a program that infects your computer and allows a hacker to take control of your machine behind your back. A Trojan infection can allow total remote access to your computer by a third party.
Unlike virus and worms, Trojans do not replicate themselves so to get infected you must, one way or another, have downloaded the program onto your computer. This most commonly occurs when you download a program that pretends to be one thing while it is actually another. Hence the origin of the "Trojan" name.

The most common types of Trojans include such functions as the ability to steal all passwords cached or not (this is done using key logging technology), run files, do serious damage to your machine and do pretty much whatever the intruder wants.

However these days most Trojans are being used to turn your computer into a Zombie. In other words the hacker will be able to use your computer and a bunch of other infected computers like yours and turn them into an army of zombies to attack a more important target. This way the intruder can hide his or her own trace and use your computer as a front. This means the victim's firewall will show your Internet address in the log as the attacker's address and you may end up with several complaint letters to your ISP and even lose your account as a result.

So just because you think you have nothing important on your computer doesn't mean your computer itself and your bandwidth is not valuable to hackers. In fact they are quite valuable and worth the hacker's time.

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How can Spyware end up in my computer?

Spyware is normally installed through either one of two common methods. The first is to hide a spy-ware component within an otherwise apparently useful program. Often, the containing program is made available for download free of charge, so as to encourage wide uptake of the spy-ware component. The second common method is to take advantage of security flaws in Internet Explorer. Sometimes they arrive as an automatic download from a website you are surfing. Spyware can also be installed on a computer by a virus or an e-mail Trojan program, but this is not common.

The HTTP cookie (e.g. a packet of information) is a well-known mechanism for storing information about an Internet user on their own computer, often used to assign website visitors an individual identification number for subsequent recognition. However, the existence of cookies and their use is generally not concealed from users, who can also disallow access to cookie information. Nevertheless, to the extent that a Web site uses a cookie identifier to build a profile about the user, who does not know what information is added to this profile, the cookie mechanism could be considered a form of spy-ware. For example, a search engine website could assign a user an individual ID the first time he visits and store all search terms in a database with this ID as a key on all subsequent visits (until the cookie expires or is deleted). This data could be used to select advertisements to display to that user, or could—legally or illegally—be transmitted to third parties.

Another cause is granting permission for web-based applications to integrate into your system. These "browser helper" object embeds itself as part of your web browser.

Spyware is usually installed by some stealthy means. If you read the user agreements for the software you download and install, references (sometimes vague) are cited for allowing the issuing company of the software to record your Internet usage and website surfing. Some software vendors allow you to buy the same product without this overhead.

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What are the consequences of Spyware activity?

Unprotected Windows-based computers, particularly those used by children or credulous adults, can rapidly accumulate a great many spy-ware components—several hundred individual instances is common. The consequences of a moderate to severe spy-ware infection (privacy issues aside) generally include a substantial loss of system performance (over 50% in severe cases), and major stability issues (crashes and hangs). Difficulty connecting to the Internet is another common symptom.

Spyware infection is now (as of 2004) responsible for more visits to professional computer repairers than any other single cause. In more than half of these cases, the user is unaware of the spy-ware problem and initially assumes that the system performance, stability, and/or connectivity issues are related to hardware, Windows installation problems, or a virus.

Some spy-ware products have additional consequences. Dialers attempt to connect directly to a particular telephone number rather than to the user's own Internet Service Provider: where the number in question is overseas, this can result in massive telephone bills which the user has no choice but to pay.

Much worse than your computer performances, is the violation of your privacy. The very essence of spy-ware is to collect as much information as possible to identify your behaviours for marketing purposes. The websites you visit and the time of the day when you browse the Internet are only a couple of examples. As a matter of fact, there is no limit to the type of information that spy-ware can be programmed to transmit.

Particularly worrisome spy-ware programs are the so called "key-loggers". They log keystrokes and mouse clicks on the computer where they are installed and write them to a file. Usually they have the option of encrypting and decrypting the log files and the option of sending the file to a destination across the Internet. Software key-loggers, as opposed to hardware's, are practically impossible to track once installed. However, key logging can be effectively prevented by adopting good security practices. While key-loggers have many perfectly legal applications, their common utilization in espionage speaks volumes about the implications on the target's privacy.

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Do I need an Anti-Spyware?

If you are very careful not to use your computer in any way that could allow your identification or if you don't care about your privacy, you certainly don't need it. Millions of people are using advertising supported "spyware" products and could not care less about the privacy hype; in fact, some "Spyware" programs are among the most popular downloads on the Internet.

On the other side, if you use your own identity while browsing the Internet, shop on-line using your credit card, use Internet banking or have at least one email account that could identify you, just to mention but a few examples, it really comes down to how much you value your privacy.

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