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by Franki

To start this little story, I suppose a vague definition of spyware is in order. In my mind, spyware is any software that reports anything about you back to someone, and that this communication was not made abundantly clear before you installed the program.

My personal experience with spyware has been long and varied. In my admin tasks, I have come across many many systems that are so crammed with spyware that they either won’t boot or are totally unusable when they do. If memory serves, one of the worst system infections I have come across was on a computer that Adaware alone found about 500 spyware items, and that was after I had removed all the registry entries that were starting them all at boot. Ironically, I went to look at that computer because the owners said it was too slow to use and probably needed upgrading with a newer faster system. After I cleaned all the rubbish out, they were more then happy with the speed and saved themselves a bunch of money. They are now using Firefox to browse the Internet with as it is not susceptible to the self installing spyware that Internet Explorer falls prey too. (ever had your homepage and favourites changed to a porn site and you can’t seem to set it the originals? If you have, then you are using Internet Explorer and you have spyware on your system, congratulations.) and I have taught them to be very wary of anything they load on their system, (and to teach their children the same habbits). They also now run spam removal programs on a weekly basis.

Some spyware entices you to install it by posing as search bars for your web browser, or other “useful” tools like a talking purple ape that is supposed to give you tips and tools and instead whispers in the ears of its authors about your Internet habits.

Regardless of the type of software, the common element is that they all report something about you back to the people who created it. And more often then not, you don’t know that it’s happening. If the software is self installing, meaning you didn’t intentionally install it, then that is a more malicious form of software that is definitely illegal. However, there are other types of spyware where the line between illegal and legal is a tad grey, and therein lies the spyware problem.

If all of the software that people term “spyware” was strictly illegal, then you can bet that practically overnight, every single anti-virus company would release programs to remove them. The problem is, that very often the user agreed to install the spyware in exchange for a flashy tool bar or program. In cases like that, the legality or lack thereof is questionable because the user didn’t read the 10+ page legal EULA (End User License Agreement), and somewhere near the bottom of that document, usually written in legal gibberish is the fact that by agreeing to the licence terms, you are in fact agreeing to be spied upon. (It always pays to at least skim read the EULA before agreeing to it, as you can sign away a good many rights if you don’t.)

If all the anti-virus companies released products that removed any of these “spying” programs, they would open themselves up to potential lawsuits from companies that have convinced themselves that they are both legal and ethical, and if they got the wrong judge, it could cost an anti-virus company millions of dollars. That is why the vast majority of companies stay right away from Spyware, and why our best tools in the fight against spyware are free and/or open source programs.

The two best known spyware removal tools are Adaware and Spybot Search & Destroy. Both are free, but neither program is perfect, both will miss some spyware, mostly because spyware programs are different from virus’s and are written for different reasons, so one of the main tasks of spyware is to be as hard to remove from a computer as possible. Your best bet is to install and run both removal programs on a weekly basis to keep the level of spyware on your system down.

Things are slowly changing for the better, laws outlawing malicious self installing spyware are popping up all over the world and the punishment to the writers can be quite severe. There is also allot of talk going on about clearly defining what is spyware and what isn’t. That is good, because if a law defines a program as illegal, then the anti-virus companies can feel free to remove them without the potential legal liability that goes along with it now.

Until the day when the law is on our side, you have to learn vigilance. NEVER install a free program off the net without reading the license agreement, and it doesn’t hurt to do a search for the name of the program, and put the world spyware next to it. If you find any pages listing it as spyware, then don’t install it. Also if you are running any version of Windows (95/98/98SE/ME/2000/XP/2003/*) then you definitely need to be running at least one of the programs I mentioned earlier. (Adaware or Spybot S&D.) There is no guarantee that this will make you 100% safe, but it’s an order of magnitude safer then not doing it.

INSERT: We have since created a web page to tell everyone how to protect themselves online for free. That page is



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  Time  in  Don's  part  of the world is:   September 23, 2018, 11:25 am
  Time in Franki's part of the world is:   September 24, 2018, 12:25 am
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