Daddy Bob

DADDY BOB'S COMPUTER Q & A

What Is Spyware And AdWare

 

Spyware/adware, herein referred to as spyware, is software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection. This occurs with or without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. 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.

Unlike viruses and worms, spyware does not usually self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, however, spyware exploits infected computers for commercial gain. Typical tactics furthering this goal include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements; theft of personal information, including financial information such as credit card numbers; monitoring of Web-browsing activity for marketing purposes; or routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites.

Spyware does not directly spread in the manner of a computer virus or worm. Generally, an infected system does not attempt to transmit the infection to other computers. Instead, spyware gets on a system through deception of the user or through exploitation of software vulnerabilities.

Most spyware is installed without users being aware. Since they tend not to install software if they know that it will disrupt their working environment and compromise their privacy, spyware deceives users, either by piggybacking on a piece of desirable software such as a free screen saver, or tricking them into installing it. Some "rogue" spyware programs even masquerade as anti-spyware software, and actually install the spyware they detect and offer to remove, for a price.

The distributor of spyware usually presents the program as a useful utility, e.g.: as a "Web accelerator" or as a helpful software agent. Users download and install the software without immediately suspecting that it could cause harm. For example, Bonzi Buddy, a spyware program targeted at children, claims that:

He will explore the Internet with you as your very own friend and sidekick! He can talk, walk, joke, browse, search, e-mail, and download like no other friend you've ever had! He even has the ability to compare prices on the products you love and help you save money! Best of all, he's FREE!

Once installed, spyware can monitor user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers.

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 peer-to-peer file swapping products that are available today. Spyware can infest the computer turning it into a “zombie” that will spoof email usernames and send spam to other computers without the user’s knowledge.

This will usually only occur on a computer with an “Always On” broadband connection since the dialup process can be easily detected by the user. If using a dialup connection, an indication that the computer has active spyware running is its constant attempts to dialup the internet connection. Another good indicator of a computer being infected with spyware is an extended boot up time. Since spyware is designed to do many of its dirty deeds undetected, there will be no reference to it in the system taskbar, or in the Add or Remove Programs dialog.

Aside from the questions of ethics, privacy and it being illegal, 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’s home base via the user's Internet connection. Because spyware is using memory and system resources because it runs in the background undetected, and can lead to system crashes or general system instability. Spyware can get so resource consuming that it becomes impossible to use the computer.

Spyware exists as independent executable programs, and therefore has 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, and consistently relay this information back to the spyware author who will either use it for advertising or marketing purposes or sell the information to another party.

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

Some likely sites that may try to push this spyware to you include free greeting cards, free games, free game cheat codes, free screen savers, free anything, etc. If the site is offering something for free, check it closely, very closely and be absolutely certain of the sites trustworthiness.

Even if all they ask for is your email address, it is entirely possible that they will be selling your address to spammers. This is one place where this old adage really applies, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

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