Cornell University

Technology Services

146 Ives Hall, 607-255-5484

Spyware, Adware and Virus Prevention & Detection

Know Your Enemies: Spam, Spyware, Adware and Viruses

Spam is unsolicited electronic mail. Just as various catalogs and other junk mailers get your name and mailing address from companies with which you do business, mass e-mailers get your electronic address from online companies with  which you do business.

Phishing is a type of spam designed to lure people into providing confidential personal and financial information (credit card numbers, bank account numbers, social security numbers, etc.).

Spyware are programs designed to track all of your computer activities, from which applications you use to which websites you visit.

Adware are programs that pop-up various advertisements and offers, often based on the websites you visit.  These ads are independent from pop-up windows that appear when visiting specific sites.

Viruses are programs designed specifically to interfere with the normal operation of your computer.  They can display messages, turn documents into templates, delete all the contents from your hard drive and more. They spread by opening infected documents, using an infected floppy disk, running an infected application, or viewing a webpage that has the virus built into its code.

Spam Avoidance:

  • If an email is not addressed specifically to you, most likely, it's spam. The majority of emails originating from foreign countries are also typically spam. The From: field will likely have an erroneous email address too, either matching the To: field address or showing another fake email address. If you don't recognize the From: address, hit delete.
  • Never follow instructions to remove yourself from a mailing list to which you did not subscribe.  Doing so only confirms to the sender that your email address is legitimate; just delete the email.
  • If you receive blank emails, one of several things may be happening:
  1. Your email address is being tested to see if it bounces back as undeliverable to determine whether or not your email address can be sold again
  2. The spammer doesn't know how to code properly causing the content of the email to not be viewable.
Avoid Having Your Email Detected as Spam:
  • Always include an appropriate, short and accurate subject. Many email programs automatically delete or place emails without subjects in the Junk or Trash folders. Also avoid using the words: stuff, hello, hi, help, new or the recipient's name or email address as these will trigger spam filters.
  • Type your subject with proper capitalization and structure.  All lower-case or all upper-case letters give the impression of being spam.
  • Make sure your name is formally displayed in the FROM field.
  • Refrain from using any extra formatting just for the sake of doing so. Formatting may trigger spam filters if not done properly.

Spyware/Adware Prevention:

Symptoms that may indicate your computer is infected with spyware/adware:

  • You may see many more pop-up advertising windows than usual
  • Your web browser may go to sites you do not expect
  • Your computer may seem sluggish or become unstable (freezing/crashing frequently)
  • Network traffic on your system may increase
Ways to prevent infection by spyware/adware:
  • Think before clicking on links in any pop-up windows while browsing a web page. Also think before clicking on the cute animation you were told to look at in an email you received.
  • Think before downloading and installing that "free" game, screensaver, etc. you just found while browsing the web.
  • When installing software, read the license agreement completely. If something is not clear or you do not understand the agreement, do not accept it. The license may actually state, explicitly or implicitly, that the software you are installing includes spyware/adware.

If you encounter software that includes unwanted (spyware/adware) software, look for an alternative that may offer the same features but without the extra baggage of unwanted software. Anti-spyware/adware software removes a significant number of spyware/adware applications and will therefore reduce the number of pop-up ads you receive and will help eliminate those programs designed to spy on your computing and Internet activities.  CIT maintains a list of available anti-spyware/adware applications for personal use.

Virus Protection:

  • Keep your system - especially your operating system and anti-virus application - up to date.  See Security Updates. Many of these updates fix problems with original code, such as bugs and security holes.  A large percentage of recent viruses take advantage of such flaws. All ILR-owned computers have their virus protection centrally managed.
  • An integral part of keeping viruses off one's computer is the installation of virus protection software. Such software not only detects and removes viruses but can also catch and neutralize viruses as they come into computers, thus preventing infection. But, just having the application installed will not protect you; it must be kept up to date with the latest virus definitions.  See Symantec AntiVirus.
  • Never open an email attachment if you're not sure what it is and be cautious with everything else - even if you know the sender.  Some viruses will send themselves to everyone in an email address book while others make it look like the message is coming from a random address book entry. While any attachment can potentially contain a virus, you should be especially cautious and wary of attachments ending in .exe, .pif and .scr.
  • Another way to protect your computer from intruders is through the use of a firewall, which will limit "back-door" access to your computer by other computers on the network.  See Windows XP Firewall and Hardware Firewalls for more information on the types of firewalls available.