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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).
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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 regular basis. Spyware software violates laws revolving around trespassing, privacy, hijacking, and illegal data collection. System monitors can scan hard-drives to obtain information from a user's file in the form of an email, or game (Sipior). Last March, the governor of Utah signed the first law against spyware, called the Spyware Control Act. This Act prohibits the installation of spyware with out the user's knowledge. A similar law was passed in California where each violation could result in a $1000 fine. Representative Mary Bono proposed a bill that would fine violators up to $3 million. That bill had not been voted into law as of January 2005 (Hulme).
There appears to be only a couple of option available for individuals to protect themselves from their identity from being stolen. Users can avoid peer-to-peer networks that contain spyware in downloads, watch websites that have several unrelated pop-up windows, and download an anti-virus program. Instant messaging software and shopping search helpers can be hazardous also. Running virus check periodically reduces the chances of evil spyware infecting computers and turning of the computer when not in use (Sipior). These functions do not totally prevent spyware from accessing your information, but it helps.
Spyware has become a word that no one wants to hear when a technician is inspecting a slowed computer. Nowadays a person can not surf the internet without thinking whether or not they should click this link, because it could leek out my credit card data or shut down my computer for a number of days. The computing world will be so much better once there is an official solution to the ongoing problem with spyware in today's society.
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spyware." Information Week 1022 (2005): pg. 62-64.
Johnson, Kimberly. "Senate Committee holds hearing of effects of
spyware." Knight Rider Tribune Business News May 13, 2005: pg. 1.
Sipior, Janice, Burke Ward, and Georgina Roselli. "The Ethical and
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