The Home Computer User's Guide to Spyware
As with the computer virus, spyware can be broken down into a number of
different categories. Most users are familiar with the term “adware” which
refers to software which serves annoying ads. There are however a number of
other spyware variants you should be aware of.
To begin with it is important to have a clear definition of spyware. This will
also help us understand why the term is commonly used to encompass a number of
different variants. Spyware is a program, usually installed without your
knowledge, which records what you do on your computer and then shares it with
The information which the spyware program collects can vary from the websites
you visit to log-in and passwords for your online banking site. The sharing of
your personal information with a third party is why spyware in its purest form
is labelled as a malicious threat and clearly is a major privacy issue.
Adware is the second mostly commonly used term. Adware is designed to display
adverts relevant you, commonly based on your surfing habits, to generate
Pay-Per-Click advertising revenue or sales through affiliate links. Adware is
commonly bundled with free software by developers instead of charging a price.
The malicious nature of adware can vary enormously. At one of the scale, adverts
are displayed in a non-intrusive manner in a window within the free program you
have downloaded. When the program is not running, ads are not displayed. At the
other end of the scale, a user could find their desktop overwhelmed as the
adware program spews out multiple pop up ads in a very aggressive manner. Whilst
it may be possible to believe the former is not transmitting personal data to a
third party, it is difficult to expect the later not to.
The adware issue is further complicated by marketing companies who do not like
their software being labelled “spyware.” These marketing companies generate
millions of dollars of income often via recognised brand name clients. So to
avoid legal issue security companies refer to this software as PUPs (potentially
Browser hijackers are another aggressive form of spyware. They attack important
browser settings like your default homepage which your browser loads when you
start the program. Hackers direct you to sites which generate revenue for them
like the Russian website “Cool Web Search”. Browser hijackers can also insert
sites into your bookmarks. They also can cause your browser to crash and stop
working completely and are typically difficult to remove.
Key Loggers capture all your key strokes into a DLL file which the creator
retrieves. Software key loggers are often bundled with a Trojan Virus which
gives the creator access to your computer.
Here are some tips and strategies to fight the different types of spyware.
- Keep Windows XP and ALL your web browsers (including Internet Explorer and
FireFox) up to date with the latest patches.
- Install a reputable anti-spyware program like Webroot Spy Sweeper or PC Tools
Spyware Doctor. Run frequent scans and keep the definitions up to date.
- Install a reputable anti-virus program like Norton Anti-Virus or McAfee
VirusScan. Run frequent scans and keep the definitions up to date.
- Install a firewall which manages both inbound and outbound connections. Top
personal firewall software picks include Zone Labs’s Zone Alarm and Norton
Personal Firewall. Alternatively purchase a router with a hardware firewall.
- Avoid downloading free software programs including screensavers and weather
- Avoid know high spyware risk area on the internet including illegal music
sharing sites, Peer-to-Peer programs, free game download sites and adult sites.
Richard Rogers is a owner of a number of computer related sites.