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What exactly is SPYWARE ?
The dot-com crashes of the late 90s brought about a revolution in Internet advertising. Banner advertising companies were going broke because Internet users were getting sick of those annoying animated gifs. People would just ignore these advertisements. Oróworse stillóthe emergence of firewall software such as WRQ's AtGuard actually blocked banner advertisements, which rendered them useless. Hackers realized that they could make easy money with proxy clicking programs, which also led to the demise of many of the pay-per-click advertisers.
 

The Birth of Spyware

Advertisers realized that if they wanted to still make money online, they would have to change tactics. Many advertisers turned to affiliate programs, in which publishers would get paid for actual sales made, not just for a click on a banner. The other advertisers thought of new ways to advertise; they found a way that would allow them to advertise products without even having a website or servers serving advertisements. This is how spyware emerged.

At first, spyware was bundled into freeware and shareware applications, but word quickly spread around the Internet about this new threat, so advertisers had to resort to dirty tricks. Many spyware developers now use hacker exploits to install spyware onto computers.

If you use any of the popular operating systems, chances are you will have spyware. It is probably safe to say that most home users have lots of spyware on their computers. This spyware is just sitting there, quietly informing advertisers about your music-listening habits, your web-browsing habits, or your favorite programs. If you are unlucky, you will be infected with a nastier spyware application such as a porn dialer.

 

NOTE
Porn dialers are programs that ring up sex lines, usually overseas. The phone bills from porn dialers can be huge; last month, my elderly neighbors received a phone bill for more than 8000 dollars, all from a porn dialer ringing up a European number from a New Zealand-based address.

Browser hijacking is a common way for spyware programs to get you to visit their website. If your home page keeps changing to an advertisers' web page, no matter how many times you have set your favorite home page, you definitely have spyware. More often than not, you will also see pop-up windows appearing in your browser, even if you are offline!! Although these windows might advertise mundane products, you might also be flooded with tacky porn sites. A very good tool for dealing with browser hijacks is a program called HijackThis, which you can find here, along with instructions on how to use it.

Spyware not only invades your privacy, it also causes stability issues with most operating systems. Spyware coders don't really care how sloppy their coding is. Why would they? They are only after your money. Poor coding leads to spyware damaging a user's system; sometimes only visiting a site that has spyware exploits embedded into the HTML can bring your system to a crawl. Most anti-virus applications do not recognize spyware, so removing spyware from an infected machine can be difficult. If a novice attempts the removal, it can even be dangerous to the system because registry editing is always involved.

As more legitimate companies move toward bundling spyware with their software, it is very important that all computer users start to use spyware scanners. Spyware scanners are a relatively new phenomenon; there are a lot of spyware cleaners around, but not all are reputable. Companies that also make spyware have even made some spyware cleaners!!! I'm sure that if virus coders started making anti-virus products, the industry would be concerned.

How Can I tell I have Spyware?
Not all symptoms are easy to diagnose, but the easy symptoms to recognize include:

- Your computer slowing down to a crawl.

- Porn sites popping up in your browser when you are surfing the net

- Your computer mysteriously dials up phone numbers during the middle of the night, normally to expensive porn chat lines leaving you with a huge bill.

- When you enter a search into your search bar, a new and unfamiliar site handles the search.

- New sites are added to your favorites list without you adding them

- Your homepage has been hijacked and even though you remove the new site it keeps coming back

- You get pop up adverts that address you by your name, even when your computer isnít connected to the internet.

 

How should I choose a spyware scanner?
Some of the most used scanners are freeware, so if you download a scanner and it detects a heap of spyware then pops up a link to purchase the software to clean the spyware then it could be just a scam.

It is important that if you make any major changes to your system that you first consult a good search engine (google.com) too see what it has to say about the problem. Removing spyware with anti spyware software should be straight forward, but it is best to be safe then sorry.

Prevention is often the best medicine, and choosing a non MS browser can significantly reduce your chances of being infected with spyware from internet exploits. Blocking active-x scripting and java scripting can also add extra security to your system. Most good firewalls will block malicious coding; investing in a good firewall would be a great idea. Always keep up to date with the latest windows updates.

Sites to avoid
Free porn sites
; avoid these at all costs. There normally is a reason these are free, and more often then not its because you end up infected with a porn dialer.
Warez and cracks: This is dodgy anyway; the webmasters who run these sites donít care too much about ethics. You will find most of these sites have spyware embedded into their html code somewhere.

Mp3 sites and P2P software: These are well known to be sources of spyware, many of the big named P2P and file sharing programs come bundled with spyware so if you must use these programs then check on the internet before installing.

 

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