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Spyware: The New Technological Menace

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Spyware: The New Technological Menace

Spyware was once a word that no one had ever heard of, but it has evolved into a very popular word used when talking about the computer world. The definition of spyware is very simple. It is a software program that infiltrates computer systems and transmits information either back to its original source, or causes destruction inside the computer. C. David Moll of Webroot Software defines it as a program with the, “ability to access a user’s machine without informed consent for financial gain,” (Johnson). Spyware does not have one specific function. It can be created and modified to perform the exact actions that the creator wants done. Spyware infections invade privacy, destroy computer’s internal programs, and are very hard to get rid of or filter. Spyware has become more of an issue as time has progressed. Many programs have been created to stop or try to control it, but it still runs ramped throughout the wires of the internet. Even the government has gotten involved to help control ever growing problem. Something has got to be done, before everyone’s personal information is access, and all privacy is lost.

Spyware had been titled the largest threat to the internet since spam. The scary thing is, unlike spam, spyware is not always visible to detect and able to be recognized. “Spyware appears to be a new and rapidly growing practice that poses a risk of serious harm to consumers,” (qtd. by FTC, 2004 in Sipior). A study showed that in 91 percent of personal computers are infected (Sipior). That percentage has done nothing but increased in the two year time period since 2003. In 2004 EarthLink audited 3.2 million personal computers and found 83.4 million traces of adware cookies (Sipior). Just imagine how many are circulating in every computer audited without the user knowing what is going on with their computer.

There are many several different types of spyware floating around in the internet world. Adware cookies are files that contain information about a user’s interaction with a specific website. These can be used to keep track of contents of an online shopping cart or simplify a log-in process. Adware cookies are mainly used to track user behavior on the internet. There are more vicious viruses out there than adware cookies. Trojan horses can take control of a user’s computer in the blink of an eye. This program triggers many pop-up ads that cannot be closed or moved (Sipior). Clicking on these ads can freeze a computer or just add more trojans to the system. Adware is used to perform online marketing. Adware delivers specific advertisements to a user to entice someone to buy a product or visit another infected site. System monitors serve as key-stroke recorders inside a computer. This is data is commonly collected when a client is accessing online banking or using spreadsheets. The data is then sent back to the spyware’s installer and shared between numerous businesses (Sipior).

Spyware can be very hard to spot when using your computer because it disguises itself to look like a program that is frequently used or looks familiar. There are some signs of infection. If you notice an E-mail that does not work like it should, or random pop-up ads and dialog boxes on your desktop screen (Bach). Spyware usually shows itself to the user of the computer after the computer has already been infected. In some instances, the pop-ads are so repetitious that a user can not click out of all the dialog boxes in order the view the desktop. Once the computer has spyware elements installed, there is no information on the memory that is safe from being corrupted or worse, transmitted to other users that are complete strangers.

Spyware when used to collect information can produce profits for the company that sent it out. In Europe, the largest adware (a form of spyware) firm, Claria, made almost $90.5 million in 2003. This was accomplished because German internet users visiting the site for Hertz car rentals, where Claria was installed, were redirected to rival car-rental firms instead (“Business”).

The world of spyware has attracted a lot of legal attention over time. Different levels of government have become involved to reduce the number of evil programs that steal information and shut down computers on a

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