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Avoiding Trojans and Spyware

What are Trojans and spyware?

Trojan: A man-made computer program that can infect your computer but does not spread itself automatically. A Trojan usually masquerades as a legitimate program, such as a game or utility. When executed, the Trojan not only performs the expected function, but also infects your computer. Trojans often gather information about you and/or your computer (files, passwords, etc.) without your knowledge, sending this information back to the person who sent you the Trojan.

In extreme cases, they can also give the sender complete access to your computer without your knowledge. Once this type of Trojan is installed on your computer, the attacker can access and use your computer as if they were you!

Spyware: A computer program that gathers personal data from your computer and information about your activity on the Internet, and reports that information to someone else without your knowledge. Spyware is widely used as a "marketing" tool to gather information about your interests and then target you for advertisements (typically the SPAM e-mail variety) that should appeal to those interests. Spyware can also be a nuisance by slowing your computer down or even making it difficult for you to view certain web pages you would like to visit. Primarily, though, spyware is collecting information about you and your computer usage without your knowledge and supplying that information to others.

Both Trojans and spyware slow down your computer. Spyware may make it difficult for you to enjoy the Internet because you are bombarded with advertisements.

  • Did you know? Many people who think their computer must be broken because it's running so slowly are simply the victims of spyware or Trojans!

Trojans can be used to gain control of your computer and view your financial transactions, your private files, or anything else you've used your computer to store. The good news is that you can avoid them.

How does a Trojan or spyware program get on my computer?

Simply put, you install it! Trojans and spyware must be installed to work. If you don't install a Trojan, you will not have one on your computer. The problem is that Trojans and spyware are often hidden inside other computer programs. Trojans and spyware are commonly hidden inside software such as the following:

  • Screen savers
  • Time and date updaters
  • Custom cursors (mouse pointers)
  • Weather updaters
  • Browser toolbars
  • Internet games
  • Online word documents
  • Did you know? When you are about to install downloaded software onto your computer, you will receive a warning message.

It is very important to know what you are installing on your computer BEFORE you install it! If you are not familiar with the program you are installing, do a search on the web for it. There is a wealth of valuable information available on legitimate programs. If you cannot find information from legitimate sites, or you find information suggesting the program may contain spyware or Trojans, do not install it!

Once spyware or a Trojan is installed on your computer, it can be very difficult to get rid of. Special tools are often required, and it is possible your computer software and system configuration can be corrupted in the process.

What can I do to protect myself?

There are a lot of great programs available to help you protect your computer. A good combination of an anti-virus program (see our training on Avoiding Viruses and Worms) and a spyware detection program is your best bet. Both are readily available through electronic retailers or for download from the Internet. Remember to be careful downloading files, and to make sure they are virus checked before executing them. Many of the spyware tools downloadable from the Internet are free for personal use.

Some key points to keep in mind:

  • Know what you are installing before you click 'install'.
  • Be wary of installing any software you receive through e-mail.
  • Be wary of installing any software you receive as part of a web promotion.
  • Do not install software you receive from people or companies you don't know.
  • Keep your anti-virus and spyware detection software updated regularly; daily if possible.
  • Run spyware checks on your computer frequently. A weekly scan is highly recommended.

Your financial institution has taken strong measures to ensure the security and safety of your account and its overall online banking system. By staying alert to potential security threats and keeping in mind the suggestions listed above, you can help us keep online banking extremely safe and secure. Follow the good practices and use the knowledge we've provided here, and you will be much more prepared to enjoy the conveniences of online services with peace of mind!

These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with your credit union as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.

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