Spyware - A Hidden Menace

By Dylan Phillips

The internet age has brought us many wonderful things like shopping from home, unlimited research capabilities, and YouTube. However, this new era has also ushered in a hidden menace: spyware and adware now infect over 90% of the world's computers. The problem is that these digital viruses, like their biological namesake, change their structure just as quickly as programs can be written to detect and delete them.

These malicious files are also aptly named in regards to their effects on a computer's performance. This is due to the nature of how a spyware program operates: spyware is installed on your system without your knowledge, and does not leave an icon on your desktop nor can it be deleted using Windows' "Add or remove programs," feature. While you browse the web, listen to music, and chat on your computer, spyware runs in the background, keeping track of everything you do and type. This information is relayed back to whatever company caused the software to be installed in the first place. When multiple spyware applications have installed themselves onto a machine, they all continue to run at the same time on top of whatever else the owner is doing. This dramatically slows down even a very fast computer.

After talking with a few computer programmers and a friend of mine who is a software designer for a well-known anti-virus company, I have compiled a list of 5 easy steps you can take to prevent yourself from a potentially damaging infection:

1. Whatever you do, NEVER download an Internet Explorer toolbar from a site that you do not trust. While toobars from well-known companies such as Google can be invaluable tools, the majority of these are scams. The features will all work as advertised, but the software is likely bundled with massive amounts of spyware that is completely legal because you agree to install it in the user agreement (they count on the fact that nobody ever reads those things).

2. Install spyware removal software and be sure to run a full system scan every 1-2 weeks. It is amazing how fast unwanted malware can accumulate on a harddrive. If you are on the internet alot, you may even want to increase this number. Be wary of scams when searching for an antispyware program, as many programs available for free from various websites actually contain spyware of their own. This site has helpful information about spyware and adware as well as reviews of the top 5 scan and removal programs: http://www.antispywarereviewer.com/

3. Stay away from file sharing networks like Kazaa, Limewire, and Morpheus. There is a reason these programs are free to download! The company makes money not by charging for the product, but by bundling it with various directed advertising components and spyware. There is also malicious software attached to many of the files hosted on the network.

4. You may want to consider downloading Mozilla Firefox to use as your web browser instead of Internet Explorer. Because the vast majority of internet users use Internet Explorer, most adware is made to work through this browser. Just by completing this step alone you can protect yourself from a large percentage of spyware programs before they even have a chance to enter your computer. Firefox can be found on the Mozilla website at: http://www.mozilla.com/

5. Though skilled programmers can sneak many spyware programs past firewalls and onto your system by bundling them with legitimate-appearing software, it is still important to have a strong firewall. Anti-virus programs like Norton or Mcafee will protect you from large threats like worms and trojans, but the software you installed if you followed step 2 is specifically made to target spyware, adware, and any threats to your personal information. Aside from the scans you should be running weekly, you will be notified of new threats as they are detected on your system, giving you the option to delete them before they become fully operational.

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