'Spyware' is the term given to software used to gather information on your computer that can be used by marketing companies. It is also know as 'Adware' and mainly affects Microsoft operating systems. Most spyware tracks your browser usage. From this, the marketers can tell what kind of products you're interested in. The spyware records this information, connects over the network to a central computer and uploads it.
Spyware is often included with other software that users intentionally install; mainly free software whose builders get money from the advertisers who distribute the spyware. It is often installed without the knowledge of the end user; they may not intend for their browsing habits to become public knowledge. Also, spyware can negatively affect the operation of the user's computer if it is not allowed to run as intended. For example, if the spyware cannot contact its central peer, it may cause a denial of service problem where the user is unable to run other applications. There is also the possibility that many instances of spyware can be installed on a single machine thus using up resources and affecting the performance of other applications.
Preventing Spyware Installation
Anti virus software is not designed to detect most spyware so users can easily be unaware of active spyware. The following information will help you to avoid unintentional spyware installation.
- Be extremely careful when installing freeware or shareware. Many such products include multiple spyware programs which get installed at the same time. P2P programs are notorious for this ( KaZaA, Grokster, etc.) If you're not familiar with a particular product, ask for advice.
- Be careful when prompted to run an installer program; never do so if you did not initiate the installation.
- Keep your computer up to date with patches - some spyware will exploit known vulnerabilities to install themselves.
If you know that spyware is running on your computer and wish to remove it, check the Windows 'Add-Remove Programs' first and look for applications which are not familiar. You should try to determine what the program is by a Google search before removing it - just in case. Check the web site of the spyware software - often they will provide uninstall tools. Also, there are software products available to do that (see list below). However, be aware that there are some dangers in using these products; they may remove applications that are not spyware without your knowledge. It is advisable to check with IT staff before attempting to use any of these programs.
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