Anti Spy, Part One
Perhaps you've heard about spyware and wondered what exactly it is or whether or not it is something about which you should be concerned. In my humble opinion, every web surfer should be at least concerned enough to find out what it is and then decide for themselves whether or not they wish to protect themselves from it. Personally, I use software and a paid subscription service to control it in my computer. Maybe that indicates how I feel about it.
"Spyware" is a commonly used collective term for a variety of software programs that all have a common objective. They are intended to collect information about you and provide it back to somebody else. "Adware" is also included in this category -- it is software that is designed to deliver advertisements to you that are targeted to you and based on your surfing habits. Obviously, to know what your surfing habits are, they have to monitor you as you surf the web.
Spyware finds its way into your computer surreptitiously either by "drive-by-downloading" or by coercing you into providing consent. "Drive-by-downloading" is a mechanism whereby a program can be downloaded and installed on your computer simply by you visiting a particular website or opening an HTML email.
There are two common methods for coercing you into providing consent to an install. The first uses a deceptive pop-up ad that asks you a question engineered to elicit a positive response from you, which then uses that as permission to download and install the spyware. The second is to provide it as a "ride-along" installation with some other piece of software that you have chosen to use. "File-sharing" services like Kazaa and Napster have earned themselves a reputation for this practice, providing free "ad-supported" software.
There are also "services" that offer one thing, but if you look closely enough you will find they are something else entirely. A famous example of this is Purity Scan (www.purityscan.com) The suggestion here is that they will check your hard drive to see if there is any pornography that has "found its way" onto your computer. Before you think of using it, however, take a look at the "Terms" (there's a link on the top of their home page.) Read the entire terms and conditions and you'll have some idea of what they're really up to.
So what should you do about it?