After watching his computers performance go from a run to a limp, a former roommate of mine did a quick scan of his system to see if maybe Spyware was the culprit.
That "quick" scan lasted more than an hour, as his system located and deleted the hundreds of insidious little Spyware programs that had crept uninvited into his system, clogging up his memory and CPU. As a techie, he knew all about Spyware and how these small programs get downloaded onto your computer. Still, even he was astonished by the number of programs he had picked up.
Webopedia (www.webopedia.com) defines Spyware as "Any software that covertly gathers user information through the users Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes.
"Spyware applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet Once installed, the Spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers.
"Aside from the questions of ethics and privacy, Spyware steals from the user by using the computers memory resources and also be eating bandwith as it sends information back to the Spywares home base via the users Internet connection (and) can lead to system crashes or general system instability."
Spyware can monitor your keystrokes, scan your hard drive, snoop around your applications, read your cookies, change your default home page, and prompt annoyances like pop-up windows. They really and truly suck, in every sense of the word.
There are numerous programs out there to sniff out Spyware executable programs before they burrow into your system like ticks, and a lot of them are available for free or cheap from sites like C/net (www.cnet.com or www.downloads.com). If youre lucky the Spyware program you choose wont come saddled with some Spyware of its own.
You should also scan your files now and again to pick up the Spyware that slipped in through the cracks sometimes by visiting insidious Web sites but usually invited by downloading songs, videos and other free content through peer-to-peer networks. Hey, you get what you pay for.
Yahoo! made headlines last week when they unveiled a new Spyware hunting service for people who use their Yahoo! Companion Toolbar. Called Anti-Spy, you can use this new service to scan your PC for undercover agents. It will also scan downloads, cookies and other files that you pick up as you surf the Web.
Its not available just yet, but you should be able to get the toolbar, and a beta version of Anti-Spy, at www.yahoo.ca in the coming weeks.