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What is Spyware?

Click here to view a video from Microsoft's website about spyware.


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Spyware, also known as adware, is any software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes.  Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses, passwords, and even credit card numbers.    Malware is similar to spyware except that it damages or corrupts your computer much like a virus.


HOW DOES IT GET ON MY COMPUTER?  Spyware applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet.  (However, it should be noted that the majority of shareware and freeware applications do not come with spyware.)  Warez programs and porn sites are major sources of spyware.  Spyware is similar to a Trojan Horse in that users unwittingly install the product when they install something else.  A common way to become a victim of spyware is to download certain P2P and file sharing products (like Limewire and BearShare, etc.) that are available today.


Even software that you think is safe to download and use (such as Download Accelerator) are actually considered spyware because they check the websites you visit and then send back ads that are in relation to those websites.  Other software such as Premium Rate Dialers are also a big problem.


 WHAT CAN SPYWARE DO?  Aside from the questions of ethics and privacy, spyware steals from the user by using the computer's memory resources and also by eating bandwidth as it sends information back to the spyware' home base via the Internet connection.  The user often has several different spyware programs installed on their PCs at the same time.  Because each spyware program running in the background is using memory and system resources, applications running in the foreground will run more slowly.  Additionally, often the various spyware applications contend with one another which can lead to system crashes or general system instability.


Because spyware exists as independent executable programs, they have the ability to monitor keystrokes, scan files on the hard drive, snoop other applications, such as chat programs or word processors, install other spyware programs, read cookies, change the default home page on the Web browser, consistently relaying this information back to the spyware author who will either use it for advertising / marketing purposes or sell the information to another party.  Keyloggers are a form of spyware that can be used to trace and log all data that you type.  Your PC and web browser can also be hijacked, using BHO hijackers meaning that your browser's homepage could be redirected and thus taken over by certain unwanted websites.


IS IT LEGAL?  Licensing agreements that accompany software downloads sometimes warn the user that a spyware program will be installed along with the requested software.  But licensing agreements may not always be read completely and the notice of a spyware installation is often couched in obtuse, hard-to-read legal disclaimers.


HOW DO I KNOW I HAVE SPYWARE?  The symptoms are similar to those from a virus:
 Your PC may be slower, with higher CPU usage than usual.

 Unexpected icons and shortcuts may appear on your Desktop, and extra bookmarks in your Favorites.

 Your Web browser may have a search/tool bar that you’ve never seen before and a new home page.

 Popup ads may appear even when a browser is not open.


WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?  Thankfully there is software that you can use to eliminate spyware.  Some are commercial products and others are free for personal use.  Of the free-for-personal-use group, we recommend Microsoft's Windows Defender program.  (Click here to download.)  The reason we recommend Windows Defender over the others is that it comes preconfigured to perform automatic definition updates and to perform an automatic scans everyday at 2:00 AM.  However, there are other high quality free-for-personal-use anti-spyware tools available such as both Ad-Aware and SpyBot Search & Destroy.  Together, these three programs can be used to effectively remove most any and all spyware.

HOW CAN I PREVENT THIS FROM FROM HAPPENING?  Fortunately you can prevent this from happening.  We recommend installing the Windows Defender software from Microsoft.  It will protect your computer from future spyware attacks.  Additionally, it will automatically scan your system for spyware everyday at 2:00 AM.


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Consumer AntiSpyware Solutions

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