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Adware, Spyware, and Key Loggers

Adware refers to unwanted software that delivers advertising messages to you, through banner ads, popup ads, or redirection of your web browsing. Spyware is largely invisible software that gathers information about your computer use, including browsing. Key loggers are a form of spyware that capture every keystroke you type; they can send this information to remote servers, where log-in information--including your passwords--can be extracted and used.

The distinction between these three types of malware is blurred, with multiple threats being delivered with one installation. Often this is accomplished by the initial malware installation exploiting a security weakness to open a portal through which other software can then be installed. Thus the more you use an infected computer, the more compromised it becomes.

All Hampshire PCs come with ESET anti-virus installed, and we recommend that users install the free version of Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) on their personal computers. With ESET or MSE active, many threats will be neutralized before they are installed. No antivirus will be 100% effective, however, and you still have to use common sense when downloading applications from the intranet.

Recognizing Signs of Infection

Some infections are very obvious, while others are subtler. Common signs include:

  • Ads popping up your computer
  • Being automatically redirected to unwanted websites while browsing the web
  • Programs failing to launch
  • Significant slowdown of your computer
  • Inability to install Windows updates

Any one of these signs is a good reason to have a technician check out your computer. Don't forget that even though you may be seeing symptoms that seem benign, it's quite possible there's a lot more going on behind the scenes.

What to do When You Suspect Your Computer is Infected

  • Even if you think it's just adware, stop using it immediately. Shut it down completely and don't use it until it has a clean bill of health from a professional.
  • If it is a Hampshire computer, contact the IT help desk to schedule an appointment to have it scanned and fixed.
  • If it is a personal computer, have a qualified computer technician look at it. The Hampshire Student Diagnostic Center provides malware scanning and removal services free of charge for Hampshire faculty, staff, students, and alums.
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