- What is spyware?
- How anti-spyware works
- What to look for in an anti-spyware package?
- Spyware removal
- Scanning options
- Proactive prevention
- Things to avoid
In the age of broadband, spyware has become as insidious a threat as viruses. Though often not as malicious or dangerous as a virus, spyware is much more widespread. Ever since the infamous "Elf Bowling" game that installed spyware on hundreds of thousands of PCs worldwide, spyware has been a major problem. Today, the National Cyber-Security Alliance has estimated that spyware infects more than 90 per cent of home PCs.
Anti-spyware is the solution to this problem. It is software that is designed to find and remove troublesome spyware from a PC.
What is spyware?
The term spyware is actually a catchall used to cover a range of evils, including those that do not technically meet the definition of spyware. It refers to applications installed on your PC that in some way negatively affect your computing experience, suck up computing resources or potentially present privacy and security risks. Spyware ranges from the merely annoying to the potentially devastating. It's most common incarnations include:
Adware: This is software that delivers unsolicited advertising to your PC. Sometimes that advertising is "targeted" based on the information provided by spyware.
Hijackers and malware: These are applications that force your PC to do something undesirable. The most benevolent of such programs might change your homepage or install a "Browser helper object" (BHO) that annoyingly adds a bar to the Internet Explorer interface with links to a vendor's Web site. The worst such applications might use your PC to visit Web sites to generate hits on pay-per-click ads, dial 1800 numbers using your modem or even offer up your PC's processing power for use in distributed applications.
Spyware: Perhaps the most insidious form, a true spyware application is a program that in some way monitors your activity while you use your PC, and transmits that information back to the spyware software creator. Some might monitor which Web sites you visit (usually to deliver targeted advertising to your system), record information you type into online forms (including, for instance, credit card numbers) or log your keystrokes when you're using the PC.
In its worst forms, spyware closely resembles viruses, so much so that the distinction between the two is often hard to make. The key distinction is that while viruses are usually purely malicious, spyware most often has some purpose -- to track your activities, force feed you advertising, change your browser activates and so on.
Unlike viruses, spyware is also often, in a sense, legitimate. Spyware is nearly always bundled with free software, and frequently the purveyors of that free software see the presence of spyware on your system as the "price" for using that software. For instance, a free FTP program might come bundled with Aureate, an adware package. When you install the FTP program, Aureate software is installed along with it. Aureate then pays the FTP software supplier.
Whether the software vendor tells you that it's installing the spyware is another matter. Many software vendors are quite up-front about it, informing you that the software being installed is part of the requirements of the licence agreement. Some even tell you that the bundled spyware is beneficial to you. Other spyware-bundlers, however, bury the information about bundled spyware deep within the software licence agreement (which they know nobody reads), or fail to tell you about it at all.