Spyware: It's Everywhere!

The evolution of the Internet was a relatively fast one. The first advertisements were those really schlocky flashing red boxes that begged you to "click to win," or those horrible rotating ads that made you dizzy when you looked at them the wrong way. Now, the internet ads are just as slick (or slicker) than TV ads and advertisers are really starting to spend money on them. So too follows the "spyware" or "adware" that hangs on every click you make (without you even knowing it.)

Have you sat down in front of your screen and tried to discover why it is taking forever to download or you've found while troubleshooting there's been something added to the numerous operations that your PC computes? It may turn out to be that the source of your PC's slowing is spyware, software that was installed on your machine without you doing anything.

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Definition of Spyware

Forget the cloak and dagger image that the word conjures up, it's not something used by spies. The advertisers discovered that knowing the minds of users became a valuable tool - so spyware, or adware as it is also referred to, was brought on the scene. Adware is a type of software that when installed, can send pop-up ads, redirect the user's browser to a different website, or watch the websites visited by the user. Some pack extra strength powers and invade the user's machine to track every key typed. Obviously, this type of spyware also can be used by hackers for nefarious operations.

While your PC is chugging along with the added software piggybacking along, your next question should be about what these advertisers are doing with the information they're gleaning from your travels on the web. The implications that your web surfing is private is out the window, so you'll want to know what kind of information is gathered, who gets it and how it is used. These are important questions you'd want answered if someone was watching your every move in the real world.

Knowing if there is spyware on your PC is the first step. There are some sure tip-offs for users to suspect that spyware has been installed. A never-ending barrage of pop-up windows should be a first clue, or if you're redirected to websites other than the one you typed into the browser. If you suddenly see a new unexpected toolbar on your web browser or new icons appear at in the task tray at the bottom of the screen are other clues.

A change in your browser's homepage is another clue that spyware is on your machine, or if the search engine opened by your browser when you search is changed is a sure tip-off.

When you are typing and there are keys that don't work in the browser, like for instance the tab key doesn't move your cursor to the next field in an online form you're filling out - this is not some glitch, it's a sign that spyware is afoot. If a random Windows error message comes up when you've turned your PC on, or it suddenly slows down when opening software programs or when you're trying to print or save a file, these are signs you may have spyware watching you.

The next step you will need to take - eradication of these sneaky programs. Invest in reputable anti-spyware software and install it and check your machine regularly for spyware.

About the Author

Linda McGlasson

Linda McGlasson

Managing Editor

Linda McGlasson is a seasoned writer and editor with 20 years of experience in writing for corporations, business publications and newspapers. She has worked in the Financial Services industry for more than 12 years. Most recently Linda headed information security awareness and training and the Computer Incident Response Team for Securities Industry Automation Corporation (SIAC), a subsidiary of the NYSE Group (NYX). As part of her role she developed infosec policy, developed new awareness testing and led the company's incident response team. In the last two years she's been involved with the Financial Services Information Sharing Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), editing its quarterly member newsletter and identifying speakers for member meetings.

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