Educate yourself and get it the hell out of your computer. The Washington Post has a good primer on the increasing peril:
- Broadly speaking, it describes hundreds of different programs that are often surreptitiously installed on people’s computers.
Others are not so friendly.
Some spyware programs collect information about who’s using the computer, sometimes using “keystroke loggers” that do just what they sound like they do — keep track of what you’re typing to get hold of personal identification numbers, passwords and other sensitive data.
Some spyware hijacks key computer functions in a form of electronic blackmail. One oft-cited example is the program that causes the computer’s CD-ROM drive to open while the monitor shows a pop-up warning that the computer is infected with spyware. The authors of the ploy direct victims to buy a “cure” that turns out to be none other than… a spyware program. Then there’s the “Beast,” which can give its author complete control of someone else’s computer.
The most aggressive programs go beyond the traditional definition of spyware and seize your Internet browser. There is little to separate those kinds of programs from computer viruses and worms, and their origins often are the same — identity thieves and other kinds of online criminals.
With that in mind, here’s what you can do to make sure that your computer does not turn into a spyware billboard:
* Prevention: Don’t download free software that you don’t trust completely. That includes peer-to-peer programs like Kazaa that people use to share files (like illegally copied music or bootlegged movies). File-sharing companies get a lot of money from companies that pay to have their spyware and adware piggyback on those programs;
* Get some protection: America Online and Earthlink, the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 Internet service providers, announced in early January that they would provide automated anti-spyware software to their services. That’s for their subscribers only, of course;
* Fight back: Patronize your favorite antivirus company. Many of them offer optimal protection against adware and spyware. There also are many free downloads for real anti-spyware programs. Lavasoft’s Ad-aware program is one such tool. Also try this site — safer-networking.org. To eliminate some of the more aggressive programs, users may need a more specialized tool — this site points computer users to a series of handy links and reviews;
– Take it to the Hill: Believe it or not, lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are well aware of spyware as both an annoyance and a security threat.
Here’s one succinct statement from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who last week held a hearing on anti-spyware legislation he introduced with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): “It’s my computer. It is private property. I bought it and paid for it and for my use only, not some leech.”
The SPYBLOCK Act, proposed by Burns and Wyden (the same duo who brought us the first national anti-spam law) would make it illegal to use the Internet to install software on people’s computers without their consent, and require companies that offer software downloads to provide more disclosure about what the programs do and what information they collect. The bill also would require Internet ads generated by the software to be clearly labeled.
I’m glad the government is finally recognizing spyware for what it is, but in the meantime take responsibility for your own computer and clear out the crap. The world will be a better place.