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Crimeware is a type of malicious software. Its purpose is to automate cybercrime. Identity theft and the collection of personal and financial information are common goals of people who use crimeware. There are several ways that computer users can become victims of this type of malicious program, but there also are a few simple ways that they can guard themselves against targeted attacks.
Crimeware differs from other computer threats such as spyware, adware and other types of malware in that it's used to facilitate identity theft. When it completes this task, it can then infiltrate a victim's online accounts in order to gain access to personal and financial information. Many of the accounts that are targeted are those that are associated with financial institutions or online retailers, although networks themselves also can be the targets of the cybercrime. Thieves can take the collected information and commit crimes such as diverting funds from bank accounts or making unauthorized purchases.
The methods with which crimeware gathers confidential, critical and financial information vary. Keystroke loggers can be installed on a victim's computer to record keystrokes that can give clues about user names and passwords. A user's browser can be compromised by automatically leading the user to fraudulent websites, even if the user types in a correct Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Some programs can detect and collect passwords that have been stored in a computer's cache. Crimeware also can gain remote entry into networks, threatening servers and clients and enabling a criminal to collect information from any location.
A user can be threatened by crimeware in any number of ways. Many crimeware threats are sent through email and look like legitimate correspondence, but these emails are often accompanied by malicious programs attached to the email that spring into action once opened. Vulnerabilities in web browsers also can be exploited to collect passwords and monitor Internet activity. Open ports on peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks are often the source of unwelcome computer threats, because open ports can be used to install unwanted programs.
There are, however, simple ways in which a person can help protect themselves against crimeware threats. Users should make sure that they are always running the most updated version of their web browsers and operating systems. They should monitor their email closely and not open email from unrecognized addresses or addresses that look familiar but are still suspicious. Installing a good antivirus program can aid a user in detecting threats that might have been accidentally downloaded onto a user's computer system.