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Spyware; How and Why to Avoid It

Spyware is a kind of malware that secretly resides within a computer’s programs and sends information to its programmer. This information could span from browser history to passwords and login information. Often spyware just acts as a way to release pop ups onto someone’ s computer, but they can be really harmful when they’re used to hack into people’s online bank accounts.

Spyware tends to come along with free software applications that users download to fulfill a purpose totally unrelated to the spyware. The application may function exactly as promised, but the spyware still sneaks in unannounced and begins to send your personal data back to whatever sneaky person, agency or company.

spyThe most benign types of spyware just gather information about your Web surfing habits and then show you ads for products and services that seem to match those habits. Less benign is its ability to turn your computer or email address to what’s called a “zombie system”, meaning it uses your accounts to send spam email to your contacts and even addresses you’ve never accessed. Your system may even be used to store secret data such as the contact and personal information of people you’ve never met. Frighteningly, hackers that have succeeded to implant spyware onto your device may store illegal images there, which could put you at risk for inexplicably possessing those images. If it’s a very sophisticated spyware system, hackers may opt into following your every click and keystroke, actively watching your internet presence and collecting data regarding your logins and bank account.

Not only is spyware threatening, but it is disconcertingly pervasive. A PandaLabs study found that 10 million of its 67 million devices possessed some form of spyware programmed to obtain personal data and that only 35% of all their devices had updated antivirus tools installed. In 2008 alone, personal data retrieval spyware affected more than 3 million people. What’s especially strange about the 2008 statistics is that the second half of 2008 had eight times the amount of spyware infections as the first.

Also disconcerting: spyware is only somewhat illegal. The federal government and several state governments have created legislation that prohibits installing software on a computer without a user’s consent and using spyware to collect personal information, but so long as users agree to the terms and conditions in the EULA where the spyware is specifically described, there’s really no charging the makers of the software for installing the spyware. After all, you implied that it was ok.

There are steps you can take to avoid inadvertently downloading spyware onto your computer: ftotally spiesirst of all, READ THE EULA. Also, keep windows up-to-date by setting up automatic updates via the control panel. This will limit the vulnerability of your device. Download an reputable anti-virus software package and keep it updated. Only download software from reliable providers. Don’t click on any pop-up advertisements for free anti-spyware software. Keep your browser and operating system security level to at least the minimum setting or higher. Install a firewall and use a separate router rather than sharing the internet connection through one of your computers. Stay away from questionable websites. If you see a virus alert appear on your screen, use the task manager to close the window and your browser. Don’t open an email attachment if you’re unsure of its source.

Autonomous Cars Keep Coming

Many of us got our first, abrasive look at the rapidly developing concept of autonomous cars back in 2012, when Bay Area natives were suddenly looking Google’s self-driving cars in the face and finding, disconcertingly, that there was no one there. Just a few years back, only avid tech- and auto- lovers had been following the car’s development into road-ready testing while the rest of us balked at the autonomous cars’ sudden appearance on the streets of San Francisco, the less tech-savvy wondering how they could have possibly missed it when driverless cars became legal.

model sNow the development of autonomous cars is common knowledge and moving forwarding in full force. Just last month Tesla released its most recent Autopilot update for the Model S, which allowed for drivers to set the car’s destination and promptly remove their hands from the wheel (although Tesla engineers discourage doing so). The Autopilot software is so effective that a popular long-distance driving trio used it to drive from Redondo Beach, CA to Manhattan in just over 57 hours. According to the trio, they were able to operate in Autopilot while still navigating at speeds of and exceeding 90 miles per hour.

Abusive, if interesting uses of autonomous driving beg a larger legal question, namely “What are the laws regarding autonomous driving?” The answer is that they largely don’t exist. Within the last five years legislation has been passed in some states allowing fully autonomous cars (Nevada and Florida in 2012, California and Michigan in 2013, Coeur d’Arlene, Idaho in 2014) but in cases like Tesla’s autopilot update it becomes clear that a lot of unprecedented technological advancements are allowed to hit the road simply because there are no laws made against them.

Given that no real laws continue to stand in the way of the development of autonomous cars, enough auto manufacturers have signed up to start developing their own take on the new-age concept that the rest of the manufacturers are scrambling to catch up.

McityFord recently made headlines with its newest stride towards the autonomous automotive future; it has committed to being the first automaker to test its self-driving car at Mcity, a full-size model of an urban environment fabricated by the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center. Mcity has been created with the diverse roads and cityscapes of any urban environment and has residential and industrial neighborhoods and everything in between.

Ford spokesperson Alan Hall explained, “The key element in testing at Mcity is the fact that you can create situations that our engineers would rarely encounter through public road testing, even with significant time or miles, and then do them over and over and over again, in order to develop and test the way the vehicle will respond.”

“Plus you’re doing it in a safe environment,” he added. However, he explained that for an autonomous car to truly be ready for retail, it had to have experience on the real road too:

“Both public roads and closed testing facilities like Mcity play important roles in our development of autonomous vehicles. They offer unique benefits.”