Spyware...Give it the boot!

Spyware, or adware, is software that could have been installed on your system without your approval or knowledge. It could be sprouting unexpected, pop-up ad's over your web browser. It could be watching your surfing and reporting your habits to a marketing company. Steve Gibson is credited with first identifying it as "any software which employs a user's Internet connection in the background without their knowledge or explicit permission."

Why is it bad? Well, for starters it invades your privacy and jeopardizes your computer's security. Since it is designed to operate in the background of your computer use, it consumes some of your computer's processing power and storage space. Also, No one can tell exactly what information the spyware is sending back to the home office. It could be specific personal information about your surfing habits, or even data from your files. The traffic is encrypted so you can't be sure what's being sent back. On another level, it's just plain obnoxious. Would we tolerate someone opening the front door of our house and looking in to see what we're doing, all without our permission?

So, how did it get on your computer? There are many ways, some are easy to identify, like from shareware, while others are far more sneaky. Shareware programs that are supported through banner ads generally install spyware. Spyware has a legitimate use: to update the ads and measure click-through so the software author can get paid. In order to do this, the spyware program must communicate periodically with the home office using your Internet connection. Almost all ad-supported shareware programs do this. One convenient flaw of their software though is that when you un-install the host software (the shareware that it came with), the spyware is almost never removed--it stays on your computer and continues it's activity. Many times, spyware is installed when you think you are installing some useful program, whether you paid for that host program or it was offered 'FREE'--like the 'Weather Bug' software I've seen on numerous client computers.

Here are some examples of spyware installations that I've observed:

  • Weather Bug program or News notification program from TV stations
  • Date Manager (By GAIN or Gator Inc.---a pretty sleazy outfit)
  • Download managers (such as with the free RealPlayer software)
  • Bonzi Buddy (another really sleezy outfit makes this one)

So, now what? How do you get rid of this stuff? One very good tool that is free is called AdAware by LavaSoft. I use and recommend this tool. Its proceedures are straight-forward and easy to understand. LavaSoft also has more advanced functions added in their 'Plus' and 'Pro' versions that are not free. Another excellent choice is Spybot Search & Destroy by Patrick Kolla---I'm just starting to evaluate this one, but it looks good.

The key to successfully using such utilities is much like that of Anti-Virus software utilities---keep it up-to-date and run it often! These are not tools that you install and run once and think your machine is safe for the next 2 years.

Interesting link: SpyChecker database (gives information on many kinds of spyware)

 

The information listed above was compiled partially from the article: "Leo's Email: Stop Spyware
How to prevent nosey applications from tracking your Internet activity"
By Leo Laporte