What is It?
Spyware, also known as "malware", "scumware", and less-complimentary names, is most commonly software that monitors your computing activities and reports those activities back to a central server. Many spyware programs track your web-browsing activities for advertising purposes. For example, if you're looking at a lot of web pages from car companies, the spyware might feed you a pop-up ad from an auto dealer.
Besides the obvious privacy issues involved in tracking your web activities, spyware presents ethical problems from a business standpoint. A business which has invested time and money to create a web presence is not likely to appreciate a competitor's ad popping up every time a user views its site. Some spyware pastes its own banner ads over existing ads on a web page. Other spyware adds new hyperlinks to web pages. These links could be confused with legitimate links put in by the web page owner.
Spyware can harm a web site financially (through lost advertising revenue) and could potentially damage a site's reputation. It might appear that a page is linking to a questionable site when in fact the creator of the page has done no such thing.
Other forms of malware (not common at present, but under active development) steal processing time from your computer and use it to work on commercial activities. At a minimum, these programs will make your computer run slower, and may consume memory and disk space that would be better allocated to your own activities.
Where Does Spyware Come From?
Spyware rarely informs the user of its true nature when it is installed. The spyware companies know that few users would consent to having their web surfing monitored and reported back to an advertising company, so they resort to concealment.
How Can I Detect and Remove Spyware/Malware?
Many anti-virus companies are adding spyware detection to their existing products, but for now the best strategy is to install a dedicated spyware scanning program. As with anti-virus software, it's important to run the software often and to update it regularly. New types of spyware are being developed all the time. One of the most popular anti-spyware program for Microsoft Windows is Lavasoft's Ad-Aware*.
Mac users are fortunate; few spyware companies are currently targeting their platform. This could change at any time, so users running Macs need to stay on top of the spyware issue
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