I’ve been a computer support professional for so long that it’s probably safe to say that I’ve removed viruses and spyware from hundreds, if not thousands of different computer systems. After a while I started asking myself “how on earth do these people manage to get their computers infected so easily?” I mean, I’ve done virus and spyware removal services for people that took hours to complete in which the computer had over a thousand different types of virus and spyware infections. Today my curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to try a little experiment; I wanted to see if I could intentionally get my computer infected with a virus or spyware. You would be shocked to learn that I was able to take a computer running Windows 7 that was patch current and running a respectable antivirus program and actually get a malware infection in under 10 minutes!
Our Experiment: How Does A Computer Get Infected With A Virus Or Spyware?
First and foremost, there are obvious causes for virus and spyware infections such as visiting porn sites or downloading pirated software that is “laced” with malware. Letting an antivirus subscription expire is also a surefire way to get a virus or spyware infection. Knowing this, I could very easily install a fresh copy of Windows XP and neglect to install Windows Updates or an antivirus program and then take good old Internet Explorer 6 on a tour of the “dark side of the Internet.” Doing the former would most certainly result in a computer that gets infected with viruses and spyware. So to be fair, I took a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate Edition and installed it on a VMWare Fusion virtual machine. I then installed the following;
- I made sure that Windows 7 was up-to-date using Windows Update.
- I installed and updated Microsoft Security Essentials.
- I installed the most current version of Firefox.
- I installed the most current version of both Adobe Flash and the Sun Java Runtime (JRE).
Basically what we have here is a fresh installation of Windows 7 along with the basic software installed as required to go online and do a little “surfing.”
Now that we’ve got our basic Windows 7 installation completed it’s time to customize our computer just the way the average user might do when they first take their computer out of the box and turn it on for the first time. I thought that it might be nice to add some extra screen savers so I went to Google and did a search for “free screensavers.” I clicked on a link that was one of the first on the list and ended up seeing some free screensavers that were available for me to download. I really like the fact that the site that I had ended up on had guaranteed that the screensavers that they offered were free from malware.
I installed my screensaver by double clicking on the installer icon and then I chose to “Install using default options” just the way the average user would. I personally always take the time to review the installation options (and you will too after you see the damage that was caused) but I know from years of experience that most users don’t. The picture below is of my desktop immediately after I installed my “free” screensaver.
If that weren’t bad enough, a program is now popping up telling me that my brand new computer has 468 errors and “tweaks” that need to be addressed. I can get this problems fixed if I opt to purchase the program.
The icing on the cake however was when I downloaded and installed Malwarebytes (an excellent and legitimate spyware removal program) and it discovered that I had a spyware infection.
Granted, this is hardly the worst type of spyware infection out there. I am just shocked that all that I did was download a free screensaver from a site listed on the first page of Google on a brand new computer running Windows 7 with up-to-date patches and an antivirus program and I was able to get a spyware infection in under 10 minutes!
In summary you need to be very careful when downloading and installing software from the Internet. Always make sure that you choose to install software using “Advanced Options” and carefully select the exact components that you wish to install onto your computer. If I had done so in the example above I would have prevented my computer from getting infected with spyware. I hope that this example has helped you to understand how a computer can get infected with a virus or spyware. Please read below for even more examples;
Pictured below is an example of a website that is informing the user that their computer may be infected with viruses and spyware. The site then prompts the user to click OK to continue running a free virus and spyware scan. If the user was to click OK, they would most likely be prompted to install some sort of plugin or software package that claims to be able to remove the the viruses and spyware from their computer. Once the software package gets installed, the user is then usually prompted to purchase the removal software. What the unsuspecting end user doesn’t realize however, is that the software that they just installed is a type of spyware called scareware. Scareware attempts to “scare” a user into purchasing a software product in order to remove spyware infections or repair computer problems that may not even exists.
Visiting Inappropriate Websites
Most (but not all) spyware infections come from websites that feature inappropriate content such as pornography, gambling, pirated software, drug use, and other illicit activities. These sites, especially porn sites will try to trick the user into downloading and installing plugins such as free video viewers in the case of porn sites. These plugins may contain viruses and spyware.
Running Outdated Software
A computer that is running outdated software is especially vulnerable to virus and spyware infections. Software companies will responsibly update their software if a security vulnerability is found within their product. If you are running older software with known vulnerabilities you are putting your self at a higher risk of getting infected with a viruses and spyware.
Software Piracy And Illegal Downloading
Pirated software is another source of malware as is illegally downloaded movies and music. If you engage in this type of activity, you do so at your own risk.
Running A Computer Without Security Software Installed
Most people know that having computer security software installed is a must. In fact, most computers purchased today include a free 60 day trial to an Internet security suite. The problem is that often times the free trial will expire before the user has a chance to decide upon a permanent security product. This leaves the PC completely vulnerable to virus and spyware infections. Make sure that you purchase a permanent antivirus/antispyware product before your free trial expires.
How Can I Remove Spyware From My Computer?
We wrote a great spyware removal guide that you can use if your PC is already infected.