Spyware Revisited

Welcome to this weeks edition of The Weekly Geek. Today we will continue our saga of how a good gator turned out to be a nasty crocodile as we delve into Spyware in its many forms and how to remove it.

Spyware is simply a program that will track your computer activity. It can include everything from your keystrokes (to find out your passwords) to what programs you use (the RIAA is attempting to use this to track and find pirated music) to where you go on the internet.

Spyware programs usually sneak onto your system by hiding in the details of a program that you purposefully want. Gator e-wallet and Comet cursor are two such programs. Gator offers to keep your internet logon information, passwords and automatically fill out forms (things that Windows and Internet Explorer can do by the way). Comet cursor gives you different options (themes) for your mouse as well as wallpaper (backgrounds). All of the Peer-to-peer file swapping programs install Spyware and Adware programs on your machine.

Anti-virus and anti-trojan programs are not designed to find and remove Spyware because these programs are purposefully downloaded and run by you, just as your photo editing or word processing programs are.

Here is where things get a little “grey”. People need money to pay bills yet these items are free. As part of the user license agreement you are allowing Spyware to be placed on your computer. This information is then sold to the people who provide you with those ever so friendly pop up and banner ads. Some programs install Spyware completely without your knowledge.

Privacy groups and myself have problems with Spyware. I do not want to be tracked. In addition, hackers have developed Spyware and use it for illegal means, stealing logon and password information, your credit card and social security numbers and much more. Another factor is computer usage by children, if Spyware is tracking your computers every move and your child is on the computer then in effect you have a child being stalked. Now this may seem a little overboard but the possibilities are real, not imagined or even a “maybe” issue, it is a in your face happening to you as we speak issue.

The question now is how do you tell if you have Spyware on your computer and how do you remove it? There are dozens of ways, the most obvious is to remove any programs that are know to have Spyware such as IncrediMail, Go!Zilla, Bonzi Buddy, GoHip! And the others listed previously. This is not a complete list so don’t be overconfident if you do not have these listed in your “Programs”. Uninstalling some of these types of programs will still leave the Spyware on your system. For a thorough cleaning use a program designed specifically for that task.

SpyBot Search and Destroy by PepiMK Software is an excellent free tool. Ad-Aware by Lavasoft is another program that will remove most known Spyware. AVG’s Anti-Spyware (formerly Ewido) is a great tool in fighting off these infections, even Zone Alarm (famous for their firewall programs) has jumped into the arena with their own anti-spyware. These are not the only programs available, just some of the ones I have used. Remember that when you use a removal tool to get rid of Spyware, the program that was attached to the Spyware may no longer work either.

Until we meet again, then as Red Green from the Red Green show says “Keep your stick on the ice.”