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Spyware/Grayware often gets into a corporate network when users download legitimate software that has grayware applications included in the installation package. Most software programs include an End User License Agreement (EULA), which the user has to accept before downloading. Often the EULA does include information about the application and its intended use to collect personal data; however, users often overlook this information or do not understand the legal jargon.

Types of spyware/grayware

  • Spyware: Gathers data, such as account user names and passwords, and transmits them to third parties

  • Adware: Displays advertisements and gathers data, such as user Web surfing preferences, to target advertisements at the user through a Web browser

  • Dialers: Changes computer Internet settings and can force a computer to dial pre-configured phone numbers through a modem

  • Joke Program: Causes abnormal computer behavior, such as closing and opening the CD-ROM tray and displaying numerous message boxes

  • Hacking Tools: Helps hackers enter computers

  • Remote Access Tools: Help hackers remotely access and control computers

  • Password Cracking Applications: Helps hackers decipher account user names and passwords

  • Others: Other types not covered above

Potential risks and threats

The existence of spyware and other types of grayware on your network have the potential to introduce the following:

  • Reduced computer performance: To perform their tasks, spyware/grayware applications often require significant CPU and system memory resources.

  • Increased Web browser-related crashes: Certain types of grayware, such as adware, often display information in a browser frame or window. Depending on how the code in these applications interacts with system processes, grayware can sometimes cause browsers to crash or freeze and may even require a computer restart.

  • Reduced user efficiency: By needing to close frequently occurring pop-up advertisements and deal with the negative effects of joke programs, users become unnecessarily distracted from their main tasks.

  • Degradation of network bandwidth: Spyware/Grayware applications often regularly transmit the data they collect to other applications running on your network or to locations outside of your network.

  • Loss of personal and corporate information: Not all data that spyware/grayware applications collect is as innocuous as a list of Web sites users visit. Spyware/Grayware can also collect the user names and passwords users type to access their personal accounts, such as a bank account, and corporate accounts that access resources on your network.

  • Higher risk of legal liability: If computer resources on your network are hijacked, hackers may be able to utilize your client computers to launch attacks or install spyware/grayware on computers outside your network. The participation of your network resources in these types of activities could leave your organization legally liable to damages incurred by other parties.

Guarding against spyware/grayware

There are many steps you can take to prevent the installation of spyware/grayware onto your computer. Trend Micro suggests adhering to the following standard practices:

  • Read the End User License Agreement (EULA) and included documentation of applications you download and install.

  • Click No to any message asking for authorization to download and install software unless you are certain both the creator of the software and the Web site you view are trustworthy.

  • Disregard unsolicited commercial email (spam), especially if the spam asks you to click a button or hyperlink.

  • Configure Web browser settings that ensure a strict level of security. It is recommended to require Web browsers to prompt you before installing ActiveX controls. To increase the security level for Internet Explorerâ„¢ (IE), go to Tools > Internet Options > Security and move the slider to a higher level. If this setting causes problems with Web sites you want to visit, click Sites..., and add the sites you want to visit to the trusted sites list.

  • If using Microsoft Outlook, configure the security settings so that Outlook does not automatically download HTML items, such as pictures sent in spam messages.

  • Do not use peer-to-peer file-sharing services. Spyware and other grayware applications may be masked as other types of files you may want to download, such as MP3 music files.

  • Keep your Windows operating systems updated with the latest patches from Microsoft. See the Microsoft Web site for details.