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Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

What is Spyware?

Spyware is software designed with the malicious intent of taking partial control of, and generally disrupting, users interaction with a system. Often, there is a financial motive behind spyware creation and distribution, but this usually comes at the expense of the infected user’s experience. Spyware is a breach of privacy because users are usually unaware that spyware packages have been installed, or that their private data is being intercepted by a third party. Spyware programs can collect personal information, redirect Web browsing and divert advertising revenue to the attackers. In addition to this invasion of privacy, spyware can also slow systems and networks by clogging memory and Internet traffic with unwanted processes.

Within recent years, spyware has become more pervasive, especially among users of Microsoft Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer browser. Users of these products are more susceptible to spyware infection because of the seamless integration between the two products—features within Internet Explorer allow Internet applications to access vital parts of the Windows operating system. This link between the Internet browser and system components provides an opening for privacy-invasive, internet-based software to manipulate system settings and the user experience for its own benefit.

One of the features within Internet Explorer that spyware takes advantage of is Active X. While it is useful for creating an enhanced user experience, it is also dangerous because it allows websites and web-based applications the privileges to perform functions similar to stand-alone, executable applications. Often what will happen is up visiting a questionable site, and a pop-up will ask the user whether they trust the site and its contents. If the user is unsure, but accepts in order to proceed, a spyware package will be downloaded and automatically installed.

The Dangers of Spyware

Packages can be disguised in many forms in order to lure victims into initially accepting their requests. Some will claim that the users system is out of date, or that they are missing out on a crucial feature, or even that they are being exposed to spyware. These claims are usually completely false, and are only indented to entice the user enough to accept their offer. Under these false pretenses, users inadvertently invite monitoring software that tracks their Internet browsing activity, shopping habits, and even banking information.

This type of information on browsing behavior is very valuable to marketing and advertising companies. So, while spyware victims suffer from sluggish systems and annoying adverts, attackers are making top-dollar tracking, monitoring and selling their private information.

Spyware Protection

For comprehensive protection from spyware, it is recommended to have both proactive real-time spyware protection in addition to an on demand spyware scanning utility. Proactive real-time spyware protection runs in the background continuously monitoring for spyware and other malicious programs. When spyware or any other type of malware tries to download itself, real-time protection will detect and block the malicious program from installing. On demand spyware scanning refers to the ability to run a full spyware scan, detecting any spyware on the system that could potentially compromise PC privacy or performance.

Top Anti-Spyware protection software that features both real-time protection and on demand scanning includes: McAfee, Norton, and Webroot.

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