Detangling the Web--Beware Spyware

By: Matt Mcgovern

Did you know that most major Web sites--some of them popular and respected Web sites--download unwanted spyware on your computer when you visit?

At its most benign level, spyware is used by Web sites to track your browsing and purchasing habits. Taken a step further, spyware might even capture personally identifiable data and credit card information.

* SPYWARE IS NOT THE SAME AS A VIRUS

A misconception for many is that anti-virus software protects from these unwanted intrusions. But that's not the case. Just as a "virus" in the real world is different from a "bacteria" or "parasite," the same can be said of a virus in the cyber- world. It's NOT the same as spyware.

Anti-virus software protects against KNOWN computer virus attacks. A virus is best described as malicious programming code intended to replicate itself and in so doing render a user's computer system or network inoperable.

Spyware is something different. It's meant to stealthily co-exist with your computer's system and program files, tracking and reporting information through your Internet Explorer browser--usually without your knowledge.

Like a parasite, spyware infects the host with hooks into your computer's registry and system files--hooks that you most likely don't know about.

* TOUGH STUFF

At it's most insidious, spyware parasites can actually hijack or take over your Web browser--making it non-responsive to your commands, and forcing you to sites against your will.

Recovering from a spyware infection can sometimes be a daunting and frustrating task. But luckily there are resources available to help guard against getting infected by this silent menace.

* HELPFUL RESOURCES

As my primary (but not only) protection, I use "Spybot Search & Destroy (v1.3)" which is a very popular, very effective and FREE anti-spyware application (donations are 'welcome' says the program's author). This tool is easy-to-use and can be configured to run silently on your system, preventing the download of known spyware and other such malicious code via Internet Explorer.

As with all such tools, however, it's only effective when it is kept up-to-date! Use at your own risk and be sure to read carefully the instructions for downloading and setting up the application.

For more information, visit http://www.spybot.info/

A great informational resource can be found at http://www.majorgeeks.com/. This Web site is a forum for discussion, downloads, advice, and information related to all sorts of computer problems and technical issues, with an entire thread dedicated to the topic of spyware. Simply use the "Google" search utility on the "Majorgeeks.com" home page (mid-way down the left-side column) to search the site for the information you want. But be forewarned--much of this site is for the technically inclined!

* PROTECT YOURSELF

There are countless other anti-spyware and anti-parasite tools available out there, some for free, some at a cost. Some are fairly automated, some a bit more hands-on. My advice, if you're not comfortable navigating the spyware landscape yourselfFree Articles, is to contact a trusted technical resource and have him or her set-up protection on your computer and/or network.

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Copyright (c) 2004 by Matt McGovern--All rights reserved.

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