Marauders at the Silicon Gates:
Spyware and Adware

Spyware has quickly become a high level security problem for both home and business users. It does more than just steal information about your computing habits; it, along with adware, robs you of system speed and Internet access efficiency.  The National Cyber Security Alliance reports that nearly nine out of every 10 home computers contains spyware and/or adware

Most spyware and adware are merely annoying; causing slow Internet connections, obtrusive pop-up ads, and unwanted icons to appear on your desktop.  However, some spyware can be potentially malicious by logging your keystrokes and/or searching your computer for usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, or other confidential information.  Some spyware programs will put a burden on your system resources as they take snapshots of the computer screen. Things to watch for are poor system resources, running out of memory, lots of hard disk activity, or a screen that “flickers”.

Some spyware, referred to as ‘BackDoor Santas’ do nothing but monitor your web surfing habits and report it back to the mothership.  Some examples of BackDoor Santas are Netscape/AOL’s Smart Download and Real Networks’ Real Download, these programs send information such as the URL of the file you downloaded and a GUID (Globally Unique Identifier) back to their makers with every download.

Most adware is installed along with some other program like a game (e.g. Midnight Oil) or a small utility (e.g. Weatherbug which may install the My Search toolbar).  Many people believe there is a colony of altruistic programmers that spend their days creating programs just to benefit their fellow man.  Unfortunately there isn’t, so it is always advisable to read the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement), no matter how tedious it can be, just so you know exactly what the program you are installing will and will not do.  Some adware manages to land on your system via ‘piggybacking’, whereby an already established adware program will install another program.  Another means by which spyware manages to infect a computer is by what is termed ‘drive-by downloads’ where, through a flaw in the operating system or the Internet browser, the spyware program is downloaded and installed unbeknownst to the user.

A couple of the better Spyware detection and removal programs are Spysweeper and Spybot: Search and Destroy.  Spyware Guide offers an online scan.

Upon finding unwanted adware and spyware, can supply you with instructions on how to remove them.