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Spyware (revised 7-6-16)


Note: this is a very dynamic subject. Links are subject to change at any time. Many sites just go away. Please let me know if links are changed. We are not responsible if you get redirected to something other than the original link.

You like Gator, Alexa, Comet Cursor? Think again!
Do you trade music with file swap software? Bad news!

What is Spyware? Is it harmful? Can I detect it? Can I stop it?

These are questions that need answers. I just read an alarming set of articles in the January 2001 issue of Smart Computing that exposes Spyware. A simple search on the web for spyware will bring tons of answers about this area of concern. You can read about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spyware Microsoft has a program for free called Microsoft Security Essentials. Some reviews on the web state that it is not very effective but things change rapidly.

Another place to learn about spyware is at spyware guide.com. They say This is a continual list of spyware, adware, malware, keyloggers, trojans, dialers and more.
The opening page is a definition of various bad programs. check the menus at the top.
At the top is a drop list under Access The Guide. Hover over that & select from the 3 choices.
They list the programs that are problems. The list was 2352 as of this writing.

This page has an interesting list of the kinds of malicious software being used by hackers today.

OK, So what is it?

According to the definition in the magazine, "Spyware is a software component installed on your PC that gathers information about you (generally pertaining to your online activities) and transfers that information from your PC to advertisers or other companies/individuals without your knowledge or permission. The spyware component itself is often incorporated into otherwise benign software, such as game demos, MP3 players, and the like. The exact information a spyware program obtains may be something as simple as listing the MP3 selections you store on your PC or recent Web sites that youíve visited. In extremely malicious cases, it may transfer password files or other sensitive information."

Here is an interesting quote from one source: "Internet companies, whose apparent "business model" is the exploitation of consumer trust and ignorance, are sneaking their spyware systems into our machines for their own purposes."

Where does it come from?

Programs that are built into free but useful applications youíd actually want to download and install. Even boxed, commercial software applications may contain spyware components.

See list of programs below that may contain spyware. Also Spyware Guide mentioned above maintains a list of programs that may contain spyware. They state:

The SpywareGuide List of Companies is one of the single largest sources of companies behind offending questionable products or products that may impact the Enterprise. This is a continually updating list of the companies that supply spyware, adware, malware, keyloggers, trojans and other greynets. If you are looking for information on a company that has placed their software on your PC, this is the place to start. Click in the message to go to the page.

Example: In late 1999, RealNetworks (makers of the RealPlayer media player) was found to be gathering listening habits, preferred music genres, and other information from anyone who installed its popular RealJukebox program. RealNetworks asserted that it was merely profiling users in order to customize RealJukebox. RealNetworks quickly released a patch that let users block their personal information from reaching the Web, but this case is particularly important, because it illustrates just how easily a popular organization can secretly collect private information from a huge base of unknowing users. Note that many programs have a selection when you install it to participate in sending your data to the web. IF YOU CHOOSE "STANDARD" WHEN INSTALLING SOFTWARE YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT GETS SELECTED OR PIGGYBACKED ON THE INSTALL!!!

Spyware can be found in cookies, Web bugs and viruses. Check these pages for more info: http://www.whatarecookies.com/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie and this page.

A cookie is a small text file that a Web server sends to your hard drive via your browser. In most cases, the cookie remembers pages youíve visited, or fills in information, such as user names and passwords. Fortunately, Web sites generally donít hide cookies, and you can easily set your browser to warn you about receiving cookies, or reject them entirely (so not all cookies are considered spyware). An example of the use of cookies is Yahoo mail and Amazon. My yahoo mail shows me ads based on recent searches in Amazon.

Web bugs are tiny image files in a Web page or HTML type e-mail message. You donít actually see Web bugs, and cookie filters donít catch them. But Web bugs can gather information ranging from your computerís IP (Internet Protocol) address (which identifies your computer on the Internet) to your surfing habits. In many cases, Web bugs can access cookies and send their information back to the Web bugís originator.

Trojans or computer viruses. Infected systems may send user names and passwords from popular banking programs to the person that created the virus. Fortunately, current antivirus software can intercept and eradicate many forms of viral spyware.

Loren's note: I have always objected to running anti-virus software in the past because of the conflicts that the programs cause in Windows. I used to recommend using Go Back as a way to recover from problems, however this discussion makes a valid point that once the harm is done by sending data out to the world, Go Back does not recover from that. Therefore, I am changing my mind about the need to run an UP TO DATE ANTIVIRUS PROGRAM. I can't emphasize enough that for an antivirus program to work, you MUST get new data files from the web VERY OFTEN. I also just got a Trojan horse that infected me to the level that Go Back could not recover from. I had to completely wipe out everything and start over. Not fun and very time consuming. I did not lose any data because I do back up often.

PS As of Dec 2009, Symantec has obsoleted GoBack & replaced it with Norton Ghost. The principle still holds- MAKE A BACKUP BEFORE DOING ANY MAINTENANCE. Actually you should do a backup regularly anyway.

In 2016, there are a number of other backup options. Tons of software like Acronis. And now everything is moving to "Cloud" backup. This means that much of our stuff is stored in another system somewhere else. Scary as this sounds, the security is probably better than we have on our own computers. And the advantage is that the data is available to us anywhere, not just on one computer. A recent comment even stated that the "Cloud" may replace servers. Our accounting is now done on the "cloud". Microsoft and others are selling subscriptions to their software on the cloud. The advantage of this is the software never needs updating. Your subscription pays for always having the latest program. The advantage of this is the ability to access your files from any computer.

What programs should I watch out for?

Adware, Alexa, Aureate, Comet Cursor, Cydoor, Doubleclick, DSSAgent, Flyswat, Gator, TimeSink, KaZaa, Toptext, Web3000 and Webhancer and many programs that promise to enhance your speeds of connection or download are suspect. Remember, THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH. If someone gives you something for free, it may be spying on you. Ever wonder where the mailing lists are generated that send you junk mail? Now you know.

Disclaimer: The above list of programs was taken from various sources and my own experience with clients and removal software. If any author of the above programs feels they should be removed from this list, please feel free to contact me.

As of this writing (spyware guide.com) still maintains a list of spyware programs.

Here is a quote from an article in The February 2002 Smart Business Magazine by Taylor and Jerome:
How low can advertisers go? Ambush ads are now testing the limits of ethical behavior. Gator, a program that presents itself as your "smart online companion," behaves like a digital wallet, remembering passwords and offering special discounts. In fact, it's a hijacker. Visit Staples.com with Gator installed, for example, and up pops a promotion for free shipping from Office Depot. Click on the coupon, and you're whisked to Office Depot's site. If you don't bite, the software tries to nab you again at Staples' check-out screen. More than 10 million surfers have downloaded the utility. At long last, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has gotten huffy about programs that shanghai surfers (Gator has reluctantly agreed to stop selling online ads that block other ads until it works out a deal with the IAB). All this has conveniently deflected criticism from the portals. After all, ambush ads are even sleazier than the in-your-face ads you'll find at MSN, Excite, Yahoo, AOL, and other high-traffic sites. This article was posted at www.smartbusinessmag.com, but the site has removed articles to all but subscribers. Now in 2015 the site appears to be gone.

Are they harmful?

Do you consider it harmful to give out personal information without your permission?

Is a virus harmful that sends your personal documents or information to others without your permission?

Do you consider it harmful for someone to sneak a program into your computer that spies on you?

Can I detect and remove spyware?

Yes, there are numerous programs that can be downloaded (for free?) for detecting and removing spyware. Do a search on the web and you will find many. I choose not to list any here until I have time to check them out personally.

You can detect and destroy spyware that is currently on your system by downloading SpyBot. Go to the home page here.
My preference for downloading it is at Filehippo. Other download sites are a headache.

The malicious program bypassed all my protections, hijacked my home page & no matter how I tried it came back every time I rebooted. I searched the web for 3 days & tried every removal tool suggested. I deleted files in Windows, modified the registry & it would come back. Nothing worked until I bought the paid version of Spyware Doctor. I run it continuously & use the immunize feature & have had no problems since. The thing I like is that it warns me when I am trying to access a site that may contain spyware. It's not perfect. Sometimes it warns me not to go to my Yahoo e-mail, but it has kept me away from harmful sites.

After removing spyware from your system, then download and install a program to block spyware from getting in to your system in the first place. I searched download.com for "spyware block" and found 47 items, but SpywareBlaster 2.6.1 was the only free one I found.

Learn about "piggyback software" and "leechware" by googling it.

Some links to spyware info sites:

PCHell ,(includes instructions on removing many spyware programs) SpyChecker, PC911, any of these sites can change. For up to date info just Google "spyware info".

 

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