What is spyware?
Generally speaking, spyware is software that gathers information about a person without his or her knowledge or conscious permission. Some of it can be fairly harmless, just tracking your activities in order to display relevant advertising (aka adware), but other types of spyware can take a great deal of control over your system - setting your start page to a particular site and forcing your browser to load specific pages during your surfing sessions. It can also be used as a conduit for installing other programs, such as keyloggers that record your keystrokes, history, passwords, and other confidential and private information.
Other sneaky spyware tricks
I was chatting with a colleague via IM a few days ago and he mentioned that he was getting a flashing message in his system tray and also windows alerts stating he had spyware on his computer.
That was indeed true, but the alerts were actually being generated by the malware itself.
Finding and removing spyware
This type of spyware is often easy enough to remove at no cost using a *real* anti-spyware program such as
Spybot Search and Destroy - cool name huh? Gotta love dramatic software titles!
Another very freeware tool to have on hand is HijackThis. It's a free utility that scans your computer to locate settings that may have been changed by spyware, malware or other nasties. It generates a list of items that load when Windows does that you can then research to determine if they are a threat. If you do locate a threat, HiJack this can remove it from your startup. Just a word of warning, it's not a tool you should use if you aren't overly familiar with how your computer operates, and always use the backup feature in HijackThis just in case.
Spyware infections are extraordinarily prevalent. Data I gained from
Aladdin.com regarding spyware in the wild shows that:
- 69% of computers in homes with children under age 18 had spyware/adware
How does spyware end up on your computer?
Many of these applications are piggy-backed onto other free software that you download or receive via email and are installed without your knowledge. In the instance mentioned above, the spyware touted itself to be a multimedia utility.
Even if a spyware application doesn't appear to be all that malicious, there's the danger that others will take advantage of your exploited system for darker purposes - to the point they may be able to take total control of your computer or install keyloggers.
Of course, the best solution is to not let *anyone* else touch your computer. Let the buck stop with you and I'm sure your customers would prefer that too.
Employers and spyware
By the way, there's another type of spyware that, depending on the country you live in, may be totally legal. That type is the software installed by employers to monitor their employees. In many ways, it's just like some of the more malicious programs in terms of operation - it can record when you are working on your computer and what you are doing while on it.
I was speaking to a programmer a while back who was telecommuting for a large software firm - he was being monitored by the company every second of the day whilst he was on shift.
Not only would the spyware report if he was working on something, but it would also capture screenshots of what he was working on. There was nothing sneaky about this monitoring, the employer was quite up front about it as a condition of employment.
Still, it leaves me thinking that if you need to go to those extremes to monitor your staff, that says a lot about the company and the relations they have with their employees.
Even in countries where this degree of monitoring is quite legal, employees should always be made aware of it as part of their contract. So, the next time you're starting a new contract, check for company policy regarding the monitoring of staff computer activities.
Related learning resources
In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.
Copyright information.... This article is free for reproduction but must be reproduced in its entirety, including live links & this copyright statement must be included. Visit http://www.tamingthebeast.net for free Internet marketing and web development articles, tutorials and tools! Subscribe to our popular ecommerce/web design ezine!
paid cash taking online surveys - free to join online
In Loving Memory - Mignon Ann Bloch
copyright (c) 1999-2011 Taming the Beast Adelaide - South Australia