Article Author :Ian Date : 27th Sep 2004 Comments :11
Spyware and Adware are two of the major annoyances for many computer users, slowing down PCs and obtaining information - all done covertly. Most computers connected to the internet will in fact be infected with some form of spyware, with users being blissfully unaware (apart from maybe a few strange occurrences whilst browsing). There are some forms of adware that will actually cost user dearly, which will be covered later on in the article.
Companies and individuals that create spyware applications often make huge sums of money, and yet claim to offer a valuable "free service" to innocent surfers. Spyware and Adware are essentially applications which can be bundled with "free" software or are installed in a sneaky manor, that serve to make someone a lot of money without the user knowing.
Most of these applications will run silently on a PC, causing a variety of nasty effects:
Adding affiliate links to many large stores, causing the software creator to earn around 5-15% commission for almost every item you purchase online.
Adds extra advertising on webpages, or even replaces existing advertising.
Monitoring browsing habits for commercial purposes.
Gain access to passwords and credit card numbers
Slow PCs down by using up system resources.
In some cases, they can dial premium rate numbers to earn the company money.
Changing homepages and extra bookmarks
Strange icons and new software on the desktop
As you can see, there are plenty of problems caused by spyware and adware, and could even end up costing dearly in sever circumstances. Most users will suffer from slow computers, laden with extra adverting and lack of privacy. Although, credit card details and passwords could be obtained in some circumstances.
Luckily, there are plenty of free software applications that will remove these troublesome leeches. There is no "one size fits all" solution to the growing adware / spyware problem, but the following guide will give you a comprehensive tutorial to securing your system from this comon problem.
How it got there?
Spyware and Adware are obviously never advertised as such, and have many modes of infection. The most common modes are (but not confined to):
Windows has a very useful tool for installing applications over the internet, called ActiveX. This allows developers to create applications that can run from within a webpage. Many sites including Windows Update and Shockwave use this tool to install the necessary files on the users computer.
Many pornography, illegal or questionable sites often have pop-up windows claiming to install some "free" component, often suggesting that it is the only way to view the site. These ActiveX applications can often contain dialer programs, which dial premium rate numbers and mount up phone bill costs.
It is true that these dialog boxes must have the "yes" clicked to install the ActiveX program, but there are many sneaky ways to get the user to click this button accidentally. The dialog box always contains the text "Do you wish to install and run".... followed by the product title. Spyware/Adware is sneaky and makes the title of their application suit the flow of text by changing it to something like "Do you wish to install and run a free application that will let you download the latest MP3s and Ringtones?". Many users will fall for this "great, free application"... if only they knew!
Luckily, Windows XP SP2 includes a feature that will not allow an ActiveX control to be installed with the user being 100% sure of it. A bar will pop-up in the Internet Explorer browser window, which must be accepted before the Installation box will even pop up. Many other browsers contain similar features now. If you do not have SP2 installed, visit the Windows Update site now to download it.
As the name suggests, the spyware/adware can act as a parasite and hide itself in other supposedly free software. Software such as "gator" or "bonsai buddy" is simply a method of concealing spyware which monitors your browsing habits and adds extra advertising to your PC. Many P2P applications come with these applications as part of the install package, as do some other freeware software packages. These companies will be paid a small amount of money for each person that subsequently has the spyware installed on their PC.
Always be careful when using any software that could install a few nasty surprises when using it. These applications are also able to download and install another other software they want once running.
Security Flaws / Viruses :
Although this method of transfer is far less than the other methods, it is the most dangerous of all. Even with SP2 and all of the latest updates, there are plenty of ways to run a file on a remote computer, all without the knowledge of the user. Viruses are one way to spread spyware/adware, but security holes in software can also run some spyware installers.