Specialized spyware developers

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Specialized spyware developers

There is still a perception that spyware and viruses are done by kids for misguided fun. While this might have been the case in the dim past, creation of malware has become a criminal enterprise whose goal is profit, not annoyance.

In one recent incident, (http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/676644.html), a Trojan horse was developed and sold to unethical private investigators in Israel, who in turn put the software to use for their commercial clients, with the goal being to harvest information from the computers of their competitors. As is common, the machines could be infected either by someone opening an e-mail attachment, or through use of an infected diskette.

While e-mail is the easiest way to install rogue software, it is also the least reliable, as it requires the victim to open the infected attachment.

This can be made more difficult still if the company makes its anti-virus efforts automatic and foolproof. Unfortunately, experience tells us that no matter how foolproof you can make something, someone else can make a bigger and better fool. Thus, conventional wisdom tells us that when a computer vulnerability is recognized, and a patch created, a third of the world’s users will install the patch within 30 days, a third will install the patch within six months, and a third will never install the patch. And while common sense tells us that we shouldn’t open an attachment from an unknown user just because it says it will show something related to sex, a lot of people – our bigger and better fools – will nonetheless open it.

Even if you know the person sending the attachment, some measure of caution is desirable. We recently received an e-mail that had a suspicious attachment from a person known to us. We picked up the phone and called them. They hadn’t sent it, so we deleted it on the server before downloading.

Using infected physical media is more reliable, but does require access to the physical computers. In many places this is way less difficult than you might expect. How carefully, for example, do you vet your cleaning staff? Often you only need to infect one computer, and have it spread through the network looking for specific types of information.

You are more at risk if others use your computer. We will periodically have some visitor use our machines to get their Web mail, or use the Internet for something or other. We always run virus and spyware scans when they are through, and, if they choose to use Internet Explorer, we almost always discover spyware that needs to be deleted.

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