Spyware Featured

10:34am EDT February 2, 2005
I believe that Spyware is a bigger threat than viruses to computers, as more than nine of 10 PCs connected to the Internet are infected, and the users and companies who own them don’t even know it.

Spyware is software that gets installed on your computer without your consent or knowledge as a result of normal interaction with the Internet or the result of using a software application. It normally hitchhikes with pages you view, software you install, clicking on deceptive popups and opening e-mail.

These programs don’t show up on any program list. You don’t know they are there. But they secretly track and report on your online behavior and software use. The data may be sold to interested parties. It can disclose sensitive information, including entire files.

Spyware has many forms, including:

Advertiser spyware, also called adware, which automatically shows you ads based on what you do and where you go. This is where many popups come from.

Monitors, which track and report on your behavior

Hijackers include browser (reset your default page, change your settings), modem (connect you to the Internet using high-priced phone numbers) and PC (new shortcuts in your favorites, makes you into a mail relay — a hidden mass spammer)

Loggers and recorders, which then send this information to unknown parties; Internet URL and screen (where and what you do, captures and sends pictures of the screens you are on), chat and e-mail (recording your keystrokes and messages), keyloggers and password recorders.

Trojans and replicators appear harmless but may copy your data, send it to others and/or destroy your information. It may replicate itself to other computers.

Just how large a problem is it? When we’ve audited clients’ computers, we have never seen an Internet-connected computer that doesn’t have spyware.

We’ve seen cases of identity theft, computers being used to generate spam to tens of thousands of other computers; users with more than 400 spyware programs installed; and a tremendous slowdown in operation — one computer took more than 45 seconds to connect to the Internet; once spyware was removed, it took three seconds.

Spyware is such a concern that one state has passed a law banning it, and other states, as well as the federal government, are considering enacting laws. this won’t solve the problem, however; even with anti-spam laws, and spam continues to be sent.

Firewalls and anti-virus software don’t catch spyware and won’t stop it, but there are anti-spyware software programs. We strongly suggest you obtain a product, get frequent updates and run it consistently.

Anti-spyware software comes in three types: free software (fairly good, usually asking for a donation); desktop software (much better); and enterprise (a corporatewide solution, generally with improved control and reporting as well as automatic distribution and action).

Just as you protect your systems from viruses, you should not be without spyware protection. Ensure your privacy, improve your computer performance and avoid computer actions that frustrate you or cause you to lose productivity by stopping spyware.

Randy Wear is president of Decision Systems Plus Inc., a member of the Technology Assurance Group (TAG). DSP provides computer and telephone technology infrastructure sales and support nationwide to increase clients’ productivity and profitability. Reach him at rwear@dspi.com or (847) 544-5818.