PC Safety101 by Michael Rasmussen and Jason Tarasi - HTML preview

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Glossary of Terms

Like any area of technology that is rapidly changing, malware is constantly introducing new words and concepts into the language we use to talk about computer issues. This can be educational at best and incredibly confusing at worst.
To make it easier to understand what’s being discussed if you come across news items, stories or instructions in the press or on the Internet, we offer the following basic glossary of terms:


Adware is the general term for any “spybot” software that exists to track your shopping, browsing and spending habits by sending this information to a remote server. Technically speaking, adware often is bundled with software you intentionally downloaded (which acts as a peer-to-peer file swap, a sort of secret version of what Napster did with music files), and sometimes as we said earlier you agree to host the software in the fine print of your EULA with some software products. Increasingly adware is simply placed on your PC when you download any content from many websites, or even if you just visit those sites.

While most adware is not truly “malicious,” the combination of its hidden nature and more importantly the fact that adware will frequently cause erratic (slow) or annoying (pop-up) behavior means most of it should usually be removed unless you deliberately accepted it, for example, in order to be able to use a piece of free software.

BHO or Browser Helper Object

This is a small piece of software that loads itself every time you start your web browser. They can range from fairly harmless – tracking the ads you are served, for example – to annoying and destructive.

Most BHO objects will be found and removed by any of the anti-spyware programs commonly in use.


Cache or Browser Cache

Also known as Temporary Internet Files, the original idea here was to make web browsing faster by storing certain elements of image-heavy sites locally, so they load more quickly than they would from the web. The problem is that in combination with spyware and adware, the nature of the files and the sites they came from can be transmitted as part of your surfing profile, which you may not want for any number of reasons.

There are many utilities that routinely clear the cache, but this is easily done by hand in Internet Explorer. Click on Tools > Internet Options > and in the middle of the dialog window on the General tab, click Delete Files and check the box for “delete all offline content.” This clears your cache.


Cookies are usually tiny text files that contain information about you, that a web site you visited deposits on your hard disk to “recognize” you the next time. Many cookies are harmless but some are not.

Anti-spyware programs will usually find all bad cookies, tracking cookies, and unnecessary cookie fragments, and delete them.



If you use a dial-up Internet connection you will want to make sure to protect yourself against dialers, almost all of which are malware and of a type that can cost you money.

The basic functioning of a dialer is to disconnect your modem from your ISP and connect you to another one, usually at ridiculous rates (like a 900 number).

Very occasionally a dialer will be a legitimate business tool that you will agree to use, for example, certain content (usually adult content) will require you to accept a connection to the content provider’s own ISP, which makes the “free” content well more expensive than free, but this may be something certain users are willing to do in some situations.

Good anti-spyware programs will find and remove dialers. If you are not using a modem to connect to the Internet, the dialers can do you no harm in any case.



EULA is an abbreviation for “end user license agreement,” the detailed contract terms between a user of software and the publisher or owner of the software. Increasingly, these contracts contain legalese that hides agreements to have your behavior tracked and so forth, which is how you may inadvertently agree to certain malware being present on your system.

In this case removal of the malware will usually disable the software it came with, and the software may or may not tell you that that is what happened. The important thing is to CAREFULLY READ all EULA text from all but the most well-known vendors before clicking that you accept.

(A lawyer would suggest reading the stuff from Microsoft and Adobe and so forth also, but our attitude is productivity in real life requires their products so you may as well agree; also they do not generally abuse their “monopoly” status, at least not in this context).

Identity Theft

Identity theft is a complex subject, but in simplest terms it means taking a person’s actual (“real life”) identity and using it to commit fraud of various kinds, usually involving money transactions but not always.


An abbreviation of “malicious software,” software designed to harm your computer, you, or to hamper the normal functioning of your system. We define “harm” to include all tracking of your personal information without your explicit consent.

All viruses and most spyware can be included in this category. While some adware would be less than malicious in intent it is fairly irritating in practice, so we consider all of it to be in the general category.

A cookie you willingly accept from say, Amazon.com, would not be malware as it has neither malicious intent nor malicious results.


Personally Identifiable Information (or PII)

This is information that can used to contact you specifically, or that can be associated with you specifically in terms of behavior. Your name, phone numbers, physical addresses, email addresses, etc are PII. PII is necessary for any kind of identify theft, but it is also necessary to offer you personalized service in some software and web situations.

Other information that may be of interest to marketers would be considered nonPII, such as you demographic profile unassociated with any data about you personally.
Privacy policies or agreements (which are included in EULAs frequently) will discuss whether a particular software package or website uses PII or does not.


The registry is a database on your PC that keeps track of everything about your computing environment like hardware, software, user profiles, settings and so on.

Many spyware programs infiltrate the registry either to gather information or to modify it, which can cause mayhem with your computer or possibly cause it to stop functioning until resolved.


Spyware is software that records information about you without your consent, which can include passwords, keystrokes, browsing habits, and much more. Some is merely annoying and some is very dangerous.

Spyware goes by many names: snoopware, PC surveillance, key logger, system recorders, Parental control software, PC recorder, Detective software and Internet monitoring software.

Trojan or Trojan Horse

Named for the original Trojan horse – the “gift” that inside it contained an invading army – Trojans are pieces of good-seeming software that have a nasty surprise inside that may be a virus, a worm, spyware, or even a program that connects to a remote machine and allows access to your whole system.

Antivirus programs will generally stop Trojans before they are loaded, and can usually remove them once they are.



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