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Spyware infiltrates a user’s computer via a number of methods. The most obvious sources are the other scum that are designed to wreak binary havoc: Some viruses, worms, and Trojan horses are designed to install spyware on victim computers either by carrying the spyware directly as a part of its payload or by downloading it after the virus has successfully implanted itself. Other sources aren’t so obvious to the untrained or unsuspecting user. The following sections explain what these common methods are and how they work so that you understand how your network and users are vulnerable.

Finding holes in the Web browser
The spyware taking up residence in a computer may be an ActiveX control, a browser snap-in (intended to extend browser functions), a browser helper object, or a standalone executable that is loaded into the user’s computer when he or she visits a Web site that contains the spyware. The spyware may load because of a security setting that is too lax, such as permitting the downloading of unsigned ActiveX controls. Spyware can also install itself via one of many vulnerabilities that have been discovered in recent years. For instance, it could be an ActiveX control that is specially designed to fool the browser into thinking that the control is coming from a Trusted Sites Zone or Intranet Zone instead of the Internet Zone.

Tagging along in e-mail
E-mail programs that display HTML e-mail (such as Outlook, Outlook Express, and Mozilla Thunderbird) are often subject to the same vulnerabilities that have beset Microsoft Internet Explorer in recent years. Often, just displaying a mail message is sufficient for the spyware to get loaded in the user’s computer. This is because Outlook is using the same vulnerable DLLs to display HTML as is used by Internet Explorer.

Hiding in software downloads
Many downloadable software programs — and programs that you can purchase online or over the counter — contain spyware programs that are silently installed when you install the software. Sometimes (but not always), the software’s
End User License Agreement (EULA) states that “other programs may be installed.” How many people read the fine print? I must admit that I don’t always read the EULA before installing software. Maybe you should add “carefully read all license agreements” to your list of New Year’s resolutions, no matter what time of year it is now.

Peer-to-peer file sharing
Although nothing is inherently wrong with peer-to-peer file sharing, almost all its actual uses are illegal, and as the saying goes, “If you play with fire, you will get burned.” The predominant use of peer-to-peer file sharing is to share music files and other protected or copyrighted content, typically illegally, with others on the peer-to-peer network. Legal problems aside, the software for these peer-to-peer networks leaves a computer or network open to spyware in the following ways:

- The software doesn’t limit the files that might be shared to just music, so frequently what comes down the peer-to-peer pipe is spyware.

-Some peer-to-peer programs themselves have spyware bundled with them that gets installed when the peer-to-peer program is installed. The result is a pretty ugly situation. Not only does the peer-to-peer software poke several holes in your system, enabling spyware to seep in, but some software also contains vulnerabilities that allow people to retrieve any file they choose to from the peer computer. Is it any wonder, then, that many companies forbid the use of peer-to-peer sharing programs?


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