Adware and Spyware
Adware and Spyware. These two categories of malicious software are the biggest new addition to the world of annoying badness in recent years. First off, I want to make the distinction between Adware and Spyware. For most practical purposes, it’s not an important difference, but it is good to know, so you don’t get confused by the jargon on websites.
Adware has gotten, an only slightly, unfair bad rap. Technically speaking, adware simply refers to software supported by ads. In the strictest sense, this just means they include ads in the functionality of the program (such as a box in a part of the window with an ever-changing ad). Though, quite a bit of adware will typically include some form of spyware, which I’ll define later. Some well-known programs that either are or house Adware are Eudora (an e-mail client), Bonzi Buddy (a particularly annoying purple monkey friend), Smiley Central, Weatherbug, and, of course, Kazaa. In the case of programs that are true to the term “adware”, they are mostly harmless. Perhaps slightly annoying, as there’s an ad sitting in your e-mail client window, but if it helps you get a free program, why not take the extra milli-effort to ignore it? The real problems, though, come from…
Spyware is among the most devious of software. Spyware is capable of causing pop-up ads, collecting information about your web surfing/purchasing habits, and making an all-around general mess of your computer. Taking Kazaa for example. Kazaa is a file-sharing client. However, when installed on a computer, it includes various version of adware and spyware. To make matters worse, Kazaa does not provide an easy way to get rid of all this malware (bad or dishonest software). In fact, running the Kazaa uninstaller will, often times, not ever remove all of the malware from the computer, leaving the average user stuck. The biggest problem with spyware, in practical terms, is not so much that your computer’s information is being tracked. This is a normal part of internet surfing, and should be accepted by this point. Amazon will keep track of what products you’ve viewed in order to figure out what other products you’d be interested in seeing. Facebook, even, will keep track of which friends you interact with the most. These friends will get a better chance of appearing in your news feed than, say, those 50 “friends” you have that you never really talk to. No, the crime isn’t in information tracking, inherently. The crime is that this malware uses your computer’s resources and will, eventually, slow your computer down to a standstill. And the worst part is that, much like a real spy, spyware will not advertise it’s existence, it will not register itself with the digital “authorities” on your system that keep track of all the programs on your machine. Spyware will not show up in the “Add/Remove Programs” list so familiar to Windows users. There are special programs to get rid of Adware/Spyware. Two of the most popular and effective spyware/adware remover tools are Spybot – Search and Destroy and AdAware. Both can be downloaded for free at download.com.
Download.com, by the way, is a great resource for searching for free software (especially on Windows). In any case, these programs can be used to automatically search for known adware/spyware. They both perform the same function. However, no malware remover can pick up everything. Typically AdAware will pick up what Spybot missed and vice versa. It’s a good idea to run these programs regularly.
As a rule, the internet is not to be trusted. This is the first rule of surfing. Unless you are prepared to take the time to have problems and figure out how to solve them, never travel to a website you don’t trust or don’t know where it came from. Never follow links in e-mails from people you don’t recognize.
As an example of the insidiousness of people on the internet, take the program called SpySheriff. Warning: Do not try to find the SpySheriff program or its website. SpySheriff is a deceptive program that purports to be a spyware remover tool. It intentionally makes itself difficult to delete, has been known to change the user’s desktop background to an image with a message saying, “SPYWARE INFECTION!”, create superuser accounts with complete access to the system, and, oh yeah, install more spyware. The SpyWareWarrior site has listings of rogue anti-spyware programs and information on how to find trusted anti-spyware programs.
Moral of the Story
There’s a lot of good stuff on the internet. And, as with anything good, a lot of people have gone and sullied it for the love of money. So keep your wits about you. As much as I am an opponent of all things normal, this is one arena wherein truth, the shadier something looks, the more it probably is. Hope this was helpful.