Detecting and Removing Spyware

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On April 29, 2004, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Washington) announced the introduction of new legislation to address the growing problem of spyware. Spyware is software that is deceptively installed on a user’s computer to collect personal information, modify computer settings or display unwanted advertising. It seems that a constituent in Inslee’s district fell victim to a piece of spyware called “Spywiper.” In the end, that spyware cost his privately owned company more than $500—that is after the infected computer made him lose a week of work and after he had to hire a technician to get rid of the spyware.

In a Feb. 23, 2004 press release, U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) stated, “Computer users should have the same amount of privacy online as they do when they close the blinds in the windows of their house. But this is not the case, as computers across the country are being hijacked every day as users unknowingly download unwanted and deceitful programs that spy into their online world. Computer users must have some sort of defense against these sneaky programs hiding in the shadows of their machines.”

Spyware can be found “piggy-backed” with some of the popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs. P2P manufacturers are encouraged to tack on the spyware when they learn that certain spyware companies will pay them for every install of the spyware onto a user’s computer. Spyware may also infiltrate your computer via a method known as a “drive-by download,” when, just by visiting a Web site, a program or cookie is surreptitiously placed on your computer to track what you do and where you go.

Installing a spyware removal tool can help secure your computer and ensure your privacy. Luckily, there is no shortage of spyware detection and removal tools. Several popular Windows-based spyware detection and/or removal products include:

 

 

 

As an added bonus, a few of these products are offered as freeware or are free for non-commercial use. Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, another download you may want to consider is SpywareBlaster by Javacool Software, LLC (www.javacoolsoftware.com/spywareblaster.html). SpywareBlaster doesn’t detect or remove spyware. Instead, it stops it from gaining entry from the get-go. Essentially, it acts like a “spyware firewall” by preventing the installation of ActiveX-based spyware, adware, browser hijackers, dialers and other potentially unwanted pests in the first place. In addition, it can block spyware/tracking cookies in Internet Explorer, Mozilla and Firefox browsers, and it goes a step further by restricting the actions of potentially dangerous sites in Internet Explorer.

Figure 1: Spyware Blaster

The fact is, unfortunately, spyware, adware, browser hijackers and dialers are some of the fastest-growing threats on the Internet today, and often they are not detected by antivirus software. Sadly, uninstalling the offending “host” program does not remove the spyware itself. Most Internet users are unaware of the rampant use and growing problem of spyware since it arrives invisibly (uninvited and unwanted) to the consumer. Unfortunately, spyware has not yet received the attention that viruses have. Unsuspecting computer users must be made aware of these lurking dangers to their personal and confidential information and take proactive steps to mitigate them. 8

Douglas Schweitzer, A+, Network+, i-Net+, CIW, is an Internet security specialist and the author of “Securing the Network from Malicious Code” and “Incident Response: Computer Forensics Toolkit.” He can be reached at dougneak@netscape.net.

 

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