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What You Need To Know About Spyware

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Unless you have an overwhelming desire to have your personal information poked, prodded, and probed, you probably don't care to have strangers watching your every move while your surf the web. Domestic spying is a fierce topic that has flooded the airwaves with the discovery of a national spy campaign conducted by the NSA (along with the CIA), and authorized by President Bush. The world wasn't too surprised by the campaign, but it's always tough to know that the, "eye in the sky" never blinks.

While President Bush and the NSA make claims that the spy program is strictly targeting terror suspects, the spying that takes place on millions of household computers targets everyone who uses them. But why would any company or organization think that someone would wish to have his/her privacy taken away? Why is it even legal?

Believe it or not, spyware was originally developed for useful purposes. Software developers began creating spyware programs to help users monitor their own pc's, and to help parents monitor and track the sites their children visited. Of course, this eventually became a useful tool for other businesses, and the exploitation began.

Spyware differs from viruses, trojan-horses, and worms in that it does not self-replicate. Similar to some viruses, however, spyware is designed to exploit infected computers for commercial gain.

Many companies have implemented software programs that use "trackers", or "keyloggers", which track a users' whereabouts, and supplies the company with information about a users' likes and dislikes. These types of programs allow software developers to better deliver products to the user, by serving ads and/or content based on previous paths the user has taken. The security risks posed by these spyware programs is unlimited, and their growth has created more than its share of controversy.

Imagine submitting your credit card information during an online transaction, only to discover that your keystrokes have been tracked by a company's programs. Home addresses, social security numbers, and other personal details, can also be hijacked and subjected to spying.

All of these practices are an invasion of privacy, especially since the spyware programs are almost always install without a users consent. Many companies have dodged legal battles by claiming that their products mention its tracking capabilities, and the user must consent to this before the programs can be installed. However, this mentioning of tracking or key-logging is usually buried in fine print, or an obscure spot where users have difficulty locating it.

Some different types of spyware include:

  • Adware - Many spyware programs will openly reveal themselves by displaying advertisements. While many of these programs simply display pop-up ads, or banners, others display ads in response to user behavior by logging the specific sites that the user visits.
  • Malware - This is a generic term increasingly being used to describe any form of malicious software: (i.e. viruses, Trojan Horses, malicious active content, etc.). It is designed to destroy certain files, and basically aggravate a computer system.
  • Hijackers - These are programs that take control of internet browsers by opening pages the user doesn't choose to view. Hijackers will often unexpectedly alter browser settings, redirect web searches or network requests to unintended sites, or totally replace web content. These hijackers will also frustrate users' attempts to undo these changes, by restoring hijacked settings upon each system start.
While spyware programs can be a headache, there are a number of high-quality anti-spyware programs that will remove them and restore your system. Two of the most popular programs are developed by Norton and McAfee. Both are great for home computers, and have proven security methods that protect your identity while online.

To avoid allowing spyware programs access to your computer, be sure to only install software from reputable companies; and keep an active spyware program installed on your computer. If you surf the web often, you should run your spyware program at least once a week.

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