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Spyware

Spyware is a term used to define a software application that is installed without the userís knowledge. Once installed, it performs certain activities such as changing the configuration of the computer, gathering/monitoring sensitive personal information, tracking userís browsing habits and advertising- generally without obtaining the userís consent. We generally associate it with software that displays advertisements (called ad ware).

Broadly defined, it is a software application operating without the userís consent, which ultimately benefits a 3rd party. Some of the benefits to the third party are:

  • Adding new homepages, icons and favorite links
  • Adding affiliate links to shopping portals
  • Monitoring internet activity
  • Installing other 3rd party applications
  • Identifying Theft
  • Making the PC sluggish

Despite all this, please note that all software applications displaying ads or tracking your online activities pose a threat to your data. Supposing, you sign up for a free music service, you "pay" for the service by consenting to receive targeted ads. If you comprehend the terms and consent to them, perhaps you may think it to be a fair bargain. You may also agree to let the company track/monitor your browsing activities to determine the kind of ads to show you.

The other kinds of spyware can make drastic changes to your computer and can cause your computer to either slow down its speed considerably or crash. Such programs can add additional components to your browser which are not needed or can change your Web browser's home page or search page. It then becomes increasingly difficult to revert back to the original settings. Most systems are infected with Spyware/Adware without your realization and the subsequent removal of the spyware is often difficult for the average user.

Microsoft Windows and the Internet Explorer browser, being the choice of the majority of people, are the primary targets for Spyware. By using a substitute operating system or browser the risk of spyware can be reduced drastically, but only because it is less common (and not necessarily because it is more secure option).  Downloading and running applications from the internet is another possible route of infection. Companies that distribute Spyware software often feign innocence by claiming that the user agreed to this kind of monitoring during the installation of a certain software application (usually browser toolbars and extensions). Nevertheless, large and complex user agreements misrepresent the real actions of the spyware.

Although this malicious use of spyware is frowned upon, it is an extremely profitable business for a select few. Website owners are paid as much as $0.50 per installation of special kind of Spyware, which makes this a feasible option for sites that have low shelf life but experience high traffic such as pornographic websites and other illegal websites.

Once forewarned, all computer users must take sensible precautions when using the internet and downloading software. With the correct tools, it is easy enough to remove the Spyware threat. The current trend is that some Spyware products distribute themselves as Spyware Removal Tools !  -  which of course can be extremely harmful for the non suspecting user. Therefore it will be wise to combine effective Anti-Spyware tools with other Anti-Virus and Firewall applications for complete PC protection as a single application will not defend you from all 3 threats.

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