Saturday, April 02, 2011


Spyware is a topic I don't feel like many of my students really see the risk in. I figured I would put up some information about it since I am going to be talking about it in class soon.

Not THAT type of spyware (Image from

Spyware isn't the same thing as a virus, and this was a problem at first. Programs started appearing that would monitor what a user was doing and possibly transmit the results elsewhere, and antivirus software programs did not block them, because were not a traditional virus (especially in that they did not replicate/copy themselves to another machine).

Some examples are keyloggers, advertising software ("adware"), and tracking cookies,

Keyloggers keep track of the keystrokes entered on a computer. They can be either hardware or software based. A hardware based keylogger would simply plug in between the keyboard and the system unit. Since most people don't regularly examine their computers, this is a good way to spy on someone. It is generally a little more difficult to detect since the operating system may not even detect it, but it has the drawback that you need physical access to the machine. Software keyloggers are a little safer, but also more likely to be caught by anti-spyware tools. Some of them can record the keys you hit and even email or upload the log file to someone.

Adware keeps track of a user's browsing habits and pops up ads. The adware tends to be a little more aggressive than your standard pop-up ads. Certain adware will attempt to scare you in to buying things like antivirus software. The reason this can be more malicious and dangerous is because once it is installed on your machine, it has more permission to do things (like pop up windows or change system settings) than a regular Web site does.

Tracking cookies also present a threat, though they are less scary than the other things mentioned. These keep track of your viewing habits and store information on your computer. These may be used to, say, display more ads about cars and less about baby clothes if you often click on car ads and never click on baby clothing ads.

The main thing that distinguishes tracking cookies and adware is the way they are used. Adware is usually installed versus the tracking cookies just being left by a Web site.

Either way, you should have some sort of anti-spyware protection on the computer. Most antivirus tools come with some sort of anti-spyware at this point, though if you are looking for extra protection, tools such as Lavasoft Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy do have free versions.

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