Spyware, Malware and Other Nasty Varmints

What is SpyWare?

Spyware is the generic term for a computer application that records, without the knowledge of the computer owner, information about the user and browsing habits or other information and then transmits that information across the Internet. There are subsets of the kinds of applications that can be loosely described as spyware including adware, surveillance and remote controlling applications, and utilities that enable software to “phone home” to look for updates. Many of these applications have legitimate purposes while others are used primarily by hackers and individuals engaged in the harvesting of information for criminal or ethically questionable purposes.

The essential difference between spyware and legitimate applications is knowledge of consent. If you know the software is running on your computer, and phoning information home, it is legitimate. For instance, virus software, operating system software and applications like Adobe Acrobat all “phone home” to ask if there are newer versions, but these are legitimate uses of this technology

What does Spyware/Adware/Malware do to my computer?

Spyware and adware can also adversely affect the performance of the infected computer. Many of these applications are not well coded and regularly conflict with other applications. Multiple spyware apps can conflict both with individual programs as well as with the operating system. In short, spyware on a computer leads to frequent and debilitating crashes.

How does it get on my computer?

Most spyware is bundled with other software. Grokster, for instance downloads 15 other applications to your computer when you download it--all adware and spyware.

How can I protect myself?

  • Run Spybot and Ad-Aware. Unfortunately, if you don’t change your downloading habits, you will need to run a patchwork of anti-virus/spyware applications regularly to keep your pc from coming apart at the atomic level.
  • Don’t install peer-to-peer software and unnecessary widgets; nothing in life is really free.
  • Never click on a pop-up ad—even when it is covering a web page. Just refresh the page or close the window.

To get Spybot: (Windows only)
http://www.safer-networking.org/

To get Ad-Aware: (Windows only)
http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/

To get Microsoft Anti-Spyware
http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/