Hot Stuff: Anti-Spyware, and What It Does
Try out a few buzzwords to get a sense of what anti-spyware catches and removes: snoopware, keystroke loggers, clickbots, Trojans, activity trackers, pop-up Windows, Adware, PC monitors, invisible Web windows, and unwanted cookies. What is all this stuff? It’s software of one kind or another, that ranges from simple text records of activity like Web cookies to out-and-out malicious Trojan software like Back Orifice that can take over and run your computer across the Internet. According to numerous news reports (and anti-spyware vendors are unanimous on this subject, too), most unguarded PCs have several, if not dozens of spyware elements lurking within and amidst the thousands of files on a typical Windows PC.
Anti-spyware does to spyware what anti-virus software does to viruses, Trojans, worms, and so forth: finds them and removes them in existing files and other transient locations on your PC, and identifies and blocks new would-be elements as they try to take up residence on your system. For years, small software companies like LavaSoft (http://www.lavasoft.de), whose Ad-Aware product is among the best-known anti-spyware products around) have more or less owned this utility niche. SpyCop, PestPatrol, and the duo of Spyware Blaster and Spyware Guard are other well-known examples of this breed of software.
Recently, companies like Symantec and McAfee have started to get in on this act—a sure sign that anti-spyware is coming of age. Symantec’s Internet Security 2003 product includes Ad Blocker software that identifies and blocks pop-up ads and unwanted cookies, while McAfee’s Personal Firewall includes a “Smart Recommendations” feature that denies Internet access to potentially malicious software, including Trojans, spyware, and remote control agents.
With certain obvious exceptions–keystroke logging and Trojan/remote control capabilities among them–spyware is generally more nosy than malicious, so there may not be as much urgency in many organizations to confront and manage it. But its nuisance value can be formidable and associated productivity losses noticeable, so savvy organizations are well-advised to learn more about this always pesky and sometimes dangerous class of self-installing software before they fall prey to its ways and wiles.
As with other security matters, user education about spyware is key to helping them cope with its potential dangers and effects. You’ll find lots of great articles, reviews, and resources on this topic entitled “Spyware Protection and Removal” at the Home PC Firewall Guide (http://www.firewallguide.com/spyware.htm). Check it out!