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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Security

Spyware roundup

Hidden bits of code known as spyware may be broadcasting your innermost secrets to the world. Here's how to put a stop to it.

Who's spying on you?
Hidden bits of code known as spyware may be broadcasting your innermost secrets to the world. Here's how to put a stop to it.


Spyware
Spyware commentary
Lavasoft Ad-aware
McAfee AntiSpyware 2005
Microsoft Antispyware (beta)
Spybot Search and Destroy
Spyware Doctor
Webroot Spy Sweeper
Spyware glossary
Spyware FAQ

Call it what you will - spyware, adware, malware, tracking software, spybots, key loggers, diallers -- these hidden bits of code may be sharing your personal information without your consent. If you did not knowingly install it, or if the application did not come with an explicit, detailed description of its intended purpose that you read, understood and agreed to (one that gathers your information and sends it back to another party with your authorisation), then it is malicious spyware.

With the advent of more connected and dynamic Web sites, those with malicious intent have seized on the opportunity to develop small applications that surreptitiously install themselves on users' systems. These apps can come as part of shareware or freeware programs or from popular peer-to-peer file sharing applications. They can even be innocuously downloaded during regular browsing of some sites (this is known as drive-by downloads), or delivered in the payload of an e-mail attachment (as with worms or viruses).

Once installed, more insidious spyware might monitor your keystrokes and wait for pre-programmed strings to be typed, such as a URL for a banking site. Subsequent keystrokes are then recorded and sent back to the coder's home. After that, you can basically kiss your hard earned cash goodbye.

You might assume that your traditional antivirus application vendors are looking out for you and protecting you against this malicious code. But most antivirus vendors are at a loss to protect you from this type of attack as antivirus engines cannot protect against what may appear to them to be a legitimate application -- one you have authorised to be installed. However, some antivirus application vendors are bringing additions or further applications to the market to control these new threats.

Ultimately, protection from spyware comes down to control of your desktop. The best way to deal with it is through a personal firewall that can pick up and identify applications that cause data to go back out to the Internet (perhaps without your knowledge) and notify you of this attempted traffic.

Unfortunately, this type of system is too often ignored and/or switched off simply because of the overwhelming amount of notifications being generated. On top of that, the smarter spyware apps use commonly open ports, so unless a system is configured to match applications with ports, there is a good chance the data will get out regardless.

So how can you find out whether your machine is infected? We look at six antispyware apps that will scan your PC and remove these pests.

Lavasoft Ad-aware
If you're a penny-pincher, the free version of Ad-aware 6.0 is a good choice for spyware protection.
McAfee AntiSpyware 2005
McAfee's AntiSpyware 2005 does a good job of spyware removal, if you can get past its IE-centric model and clunky update features.
Microsoft Antispyware (beta)
Microsoft offers its first, free antispyware app, and so far it looks good.
Spybot Search and Destroy
Spybot Search and Destroy is adaptable for both beginning and power users, and it's a great way to keep your home PC free of spyware. Best of all -- it's free.
Spyware Doctor
With its quick scanning and multiple tools for stopping malware before it infects your computer, Spyware Doctor is a solid spyware remover.
Webroot Spy Sweeper
If you're unsure about the applications installed on your PC -- or know for a fact you've got a few bits of shady software hanging around -- then Spysweeper is a good buy, once you get past the speed issues.

Who's spying on you?

Spyware glossary


Spyware
Introduction
Spyware commentary
Lavasoft Ad-aware
McAfee AntiSpyware 2005
Microsoft Antispyware (beta)
Spybot Search and Destroy
Spyware Doctor
Webroot Spy Sweeper
Spyware glossary
Spyware FAQ

Adware
Typically, adware components install alongside a shareware or freeware application. These advertisements create revenue for the software developer and are provided with initial consent from the user. Adware displays Web-based advertisements through pop-up windows or through an advertising banner that appears within a program's interface. Getting pop-up advertisements when you're working on your computer is very annoying.

Spyware
Spyware often installs as a third-party component bundled with a freeware or shareware application, just like adware, making the distinction between the two somewhat vague. Spyware includes code used to gather and transmit information about the user or his or her behavior to a third party. This statistical data often is collected without the knowledge or consent of the user.

Hijackers
Often installing as a helpful browser toolbar, hijackers may alter browser settings or change the default home page to point to some other site.

Trojan horses
Trojan horses slip into an individual's system and run without the user's knowledge. They can have many functions. For example, some use a computer's modem to dial long-distance, generating huge phone bills for the computer owner. Unlike viruses and worms, Trojan horses do not make copies of themselves.

Tracking cookies
Internet browsers write and read cookies, files with small amounts of data (such as site passwords and settings) based on instructions from Web sites. In many cases, cookies provide a benefit to users. However, in some instances cookies are used to consolidate and track user behaviour across different sites, which provides marketers with private information about an individual.

Lavasoft Ad-aware
If you're a penny-pincher, the free version of Ad-aware 6.0 is a good choice for spyware protection.
McAfee AntiSpyware 2005
McAfee's AntiSpyware 2005 does a good job of spyware removal, if you can get past its IE-centric model and clunky update features.
Microsoft Antispyware (beta)
Microsoft offers its first, free antispyware app, and so far it looks good.
Spybot Search and Destroy
Spybot Search and Destroy is adaptable for both beginning and power users, and it's a great way to keep your home PC free of spyware. Best of all -- it's free.
Spyware Doctor
With its quick scanning and multiple tools for stopping malware before it infects your computer, Spyware Doctor is a solid spyware remover.
Webroot Spy Sweeper
If you're unsure about the applications installed on your PC -- or know for a fact you've got a few bits of shady software hanging around -- then Spysweeper is a good buy, once you get past the speed issues.

Who's spying on you?

Spyware FAQ


Spyware
Introduction
Spyware commentary
Lavasoft Ad-aware
McAfee AntiSpyware 2005
Microsoft Antispyware (beta)
Spybot Search and Destroy
Spyware Doctor
Webroot Spy Sweeper
Spyware glossary
Spyware FAQ

What is spyware?
Spyware programs make money for their publishers by reporting your Internet travels and sending you advertisements. Some also report your name, e-mail address, and other personal information.

How bad it the problem?
Computer viruses get all the headlines when it comes to Internet security threats, but spyware's running even more rampant. According to EarthLink, the average Internet-enabled PC has 26 spyware programs on its hard drive.

How did I get it?
Many ostensibly free programs come with spyware or adware. The program installer doesn't always describe every program being installed.

Are adware and spyware different?
Different people have different definitions of each. CNET.com.au calls any program designed to deliver ads or to get marketing information adware. Spyware is a subset of adware, focused on reporting personal information.

How do adware-removal tools work?
Most adware-removal tools act like antivirus tools. They maintain a library of spyware filenames and registry keys, and search for and remove them from your computer.

How are pop-ups related to adware?
Many adware and spyware programs deliver ads via browser pop-ups, even if you aren't online. Frequent browser pop-ups usually indicate adware has infected your computer.

What does a firewall do?
Firewalls detect and block incoming and outgoing Internet traffic. They can block spyware from sending your personal information to the Internet.

Is all adware bad?
Adware offers varying degrees of annoyance. Some adware merely delivers a small ad banner in a program's interface, such as the ad displayed in ICQ. Other types of adware launch pop-up browser windows over pages you're currently viewing. The worst kind of spyware gathers personal data about you and sends it to a central server.

Lavasoft Ad-aware
If you're a penny-pincher, the free version of Ad-aware 6.0 is a good choice for spyware protection.
McAfee AntiSpyware 2005
McAfee's AntiSpyware 2005 does a good job of spyware removal, if you can get past its IE-centric model and clunky update features.
Microsoft Antispyware (beta)
Microsoft offers its first, free antispyware app, and so far it looks good.
Spybot Search and Destroy
Spybot Search and Destroy is adaptable for both beginning and power users, and it's a great way to keep your home PC free of spyware. Best of all -- it's free.
Spyware Doctor
With its quick scanning and multiple tools for stopping malware before it infects your computer, Spyware Doctor is a solid spyware remover.
Webroot Spy Sweeper
If you're unsure about the applications installed on your PC -- or know for a fact you've got a few bits of shady software hanging around -- then Spysweeper is a good buy, once you get past the speed issues.