is it really free?

You plan on going shopping after work, so you go to the internet to see if there are coupons available for the items you want to purchase. In your search you come across a “coupon club” that promises to send you coupons on a weekly basis for the items you purchase the most. Thinking this is going to save you some money, you sign up for the “free” club and install their “free” coupon printer. About a week later you notice some strange charges to your bank account. The free coupons are not so free anymore.

The reality is you unintentionally downloaded spyware onto your computer. Spyware is software that can install itself or run on your computer without providing you with adequate notice, consent or control. Spyware might not display symptoms after it infects your computer, but many types of malicious software or unwanted programs can affect how your computer runs. Spyware can, for example, monitor your online behavior or collect information about you (including personally identifiable or other sensitive information), change settings on your computer or cause your computer to run slowly.

Spyware is frequently piggybacked onto computers when “freeware” applications are installed. These applications are generally written with little thought to security and hackers target the code to load spyware on systems. Spyware is difficult to get rid of, can threaten computer security, and perhaps compromise personal information.

Lesson: Be safe when online and do not install non-essential applications on your computer.

Source: The Bulletin, Valencia Community College, Vol. XXXIX, No. 13, April 5, 2010

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