What is Spyware?

  • June 23, 2005
  • 5 min read

The word “Spy” immediately brings to mind mysterious ladies or gentlemen walking around stealthily, their faces hooded showing only a hint of a brooding countenance. Agencies such as the MI5/MI6, the KGB, and the CIA spring to mind along with words like espionage, treason, clandestine and covert operations, agents and double agents, coded languages, disinformation, compromises and counter-intelligence, collection of private information, reconnaissance, dossiers that are marked “for your eyes only”, hidden messages, honey traps,sabotage … phew, its a whole different world out there.

So, what is this term doing in the oh-so-genteel world of computers and internet? The internet is for sending mail to friends, having a chat with strangers in Yahoo’s chatrooms, perhaps doing some online shopping, checking up on the bank balance and credit card transactions, making an occasional payment here and there … Or, perhaps download the new game that the email somebody sent to you talked about (bless that stranger’s soul, it turned out to be such a nice game!). Viruses are understandable. They are malignant creatures, out to destroy your peace of mind. But – spyware? Huh?

Well, to those amongst us who have not undergone the rites of passage – welcome to the brave new world of Spyware!. The world of internet and computers has begun mimicing the real world where wolves roam in sheep’s clothing.

Like a spy who snoops around your personal life, gathering details about you without your knowledge for their master, spyware is a piece of software that snoops around your computer reporting back via the internet. It gathers specific information about you and your machine. This snooping takes place all the time, whenever your machine is connected to the net. Without let or pause, 24/7/365. All this, without your knowledge.

Sounds sinister, doesn’t it?

The masters to whom the real-world spies report to could be governments, intelligence agencies, your competitors, your ex who is trying to win an upper hand in the squabble over alimony, or just a suspicious spouse who wants to know what hanky-panky you might be up to behind their back. Not surprisingly, the masters to whom the cyber-age, spyware report to are also the same set of agencies and individuals. The notable addition to this list is of so-called “market intelligence” companies. These companies learn about your pattern of net-surfing and pass on this information to others who try to exploit whatever habits you may have unwittingly told them about – be they frequently visiting sites on the latest coffee roasting techniques or viewing adult sites once in a while.

How does spyware get into your computer, in the first place?

You can imagine how a real-world spy can walk into your house. They will either ring the door-bell and masquerade as your friend, or surreptitiously enter through a side-door, or break through a window. The same method is adopted by spyware. Once in a while, you get these innocuous-looking, eyelash-fluttering, come-hither pop-ups that you, in one of your magnanimous moods, click on. This is akin to the masquerader. The spyware programs that sneak through the side-door do not ask for your permission. They simply start downloading themselves onto your machine as soon as do you visit a particular website or view an HTML email message.

Once installed, what does spyware do?

To begin with, the “Trojan” species of spyware can log all the keys you pressed on your keyboard along with the window or page you used, carefully filing away each page’s URL in different cyber-slots – especially the ones where you are keying in passwords, credit card numbers, etc. Then your entire screens may get “captured” and stored and forwarded – so what your eyes are seeing can also be seen by spyware controllers. There are others that alter your Web browser’s home page or search page. Even if you change these settings back to the original restarted you machine as soon as you start surfing again, you find the settings have changed back again! The “adware” strain of this nuisance, besides collecting your passwords also collects your email address list, your web-browsing history, your online buying habits, perhaps your credit card numbers too, your machine’s hardware and software configuration, and even your name, date of birth, and sex as well!

The spyware collects all this information day after day, it does not just get it once and then leaves you alone, oh no! After a collection it unashamedly hogs your CPU and memory, latches on to your bandwidth to connect to the internet in the background, connects quietly to the site of its master and dumps all your information in their data banks. You just think your connection is a bit slow today.

How do you get to know that spyware has attacked your machine?

The tell-tale signs are very obvious. Pop-up advertisements begin to flood your screen all of a sudden, and you have to spend a lot of time closing these little windows. Your web browser home page changes to some site that you are quite sure you hadn’t asked for and, even after resetting it back to your original page, the home page reverts back to the evil site like a hopeless addict. There is suddenly a new toolbar in the browser. Your machine suddenly begins taking longer time to perform tasks that were a breeze for it earlier – it is acting as though it is pondering the mysteries of the universe and about life itself while going about its duties. Last, but not least, the computer begins to reboot or hang every now and then – again uncharacteristic behavior for your pc.

What do you do to get rid of spyware?

As in the James Bond and other spy movies, it is a cat- and-mouse game. Sometimes the mice go under, and sometimes they have an upper hand. Anti- spyware software is widely available. Anti-spyware software sniffs out these little devils from your machine and make the world a better place – a la James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. A top-notch sleuth that is creating terror in the hearts of spyware creators is Emsisoft Anti-Malware. Created to not only cure, but also prevent spyware from invading your machine – whether it is through the front- or the side-door – in real time, the Emsisoft Anti-Malware software is supported by a crack team of experts who scour the crime lanes of cyberspace for any known and unknown strains of spyware, waiting to pounce on them, fangs bared. The Emsisoft team are as relentless as the spyware creators, which means that no sooner than a new strain of spyware is born, defences against it are immediately built into the Emsisoft Anti-Malware software. Which means that an always up to date Anti-Malware literally guards your machine whenever you get connected to the net. No spyware, just no spyware, can break through the cordon that is thrown around your machine by this powerful software.

All this battling with the evil forces is done by Anti-Malware quietly keeping guard in the background so that you can continue to enjoy the freedom of surfing that the internet provides.

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Have a Great (Malware-Free) Day!

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