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.

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