Spyware is software that is installed on your computer, generally without your knowledge or permission, that partially controls your computer. The primary motivation for spyware is to generate money for its creator.
How Do You Get Infected by Spyware?
Spyware can be downloaded and installed along with peer-to-peer file sharing programs like Kazaa or Limewire or various shareware or freeware applications. It can also be installed through malicous web pages.
Be very careful with any software you install on your computer. Only install software from a trusted source. Don’t install or use file sharing software. Treat your computer like a tool — not a toy.
What Can Spyware Do to My Computer?
Spyware can make windows pop-up on your computer that are filled with ads (sometimes pornographic or “enhancement” related), or redirect web sites to paid web search sites. Spyware sometimes monitors your behavior and the web sites you visit in order to further enhance the ads it displays or to sell the information to a third party.
For example, Bonzi Buddy, a spyware program targeted at children, claimed that:
He will explore the Internet with you as your very own friend and sidekick! He can talk, walk, joke, browse, search, e-mail, and download like no other friend you’ve ever had! He even has the ability to compare prices on the products you love and help you save money! Best of all, he’s FREE!
Instead, Bonzi would track which web sites you would visit and report it to a central computer. He would also take over your homepage without your permission and leave components behind after you tried to unistall him. Bad Bonzi!
How Can I Protect Myself from Spyware?
We recommend that you keep your operating system updated automatically (instructions for Windows computers).
There are many anti-spyware products on the market that will scan for spyware, remove it, and protect you from becoming infected in the future. We’ve tested many of the programs out there and we strongly recommend using ZoneAlarm Security Suite.
Long Description (from Wikipedia)
Spyware is a broad category of malicious software intended to intercept or take partial control of a computer’s operation without the user’s informed consent. While the term taken literally suggests software that surreptitiously monitors the user, it has come to refer more broadly to software that subverts the computer’s operation for the benefit of a third party.
Spyware differs from viruses and worms in that it does not usually self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, spyware is designed to exploit infected computers for commercial gain. Typical tactics furthering this goal include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements; theft of personal information (including financial information such as credit card numbers); monitoring of Web-browsing activity for marketing purposes; or routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites. In some cases, spyware may be used to verify compliance with a software license agreement (or EULA).
As of 2005, spyware is only a common problem for computers running Microsoft Windows operating systems. Some worms or rootkits able to attack Linux and other Unix platforms include spyware-like functions, and keyloggers or other similar monitoring software exists for nearly every operating system.
The first recorded use of the term spyware occurred on October 16, 1995, in a Usenet post that poked fun at Microsoft’s business model. Spyware later came to refer to espionage equipment such as tiny cameras. However, in 1999 the founder of Zone Labs, Gregor Freund, used the term in a press release for the ZoneAlarm Personal Firewall. Since then, computer users have used the term in its current sense. 1999 also saw the introduction of the first popular freeware program to include built-in spyware: a humorous and popular game called “Elf Bowling” spread across the Internet in November 1999, and many users learned with surprise that the program actually transmitted user information back to the game’s creator, Nsoft.
In early 2000, Steve Gibson of Gibson Research realized that advertising software had been installed on his system, and he suspected that the software was stealing his personal information. After analyzing the software he determined that they were adware components from the companies Aureate (later Radiate) and Conducent. He eventually recinded his claim that the ad software collected information without the user’s knowledge, but still chastised the ad companies for covertly installing the spyware and making it difficult to remove.
As a result of his analysis in 2000, Gibson released the first anti-spyware program, OptOut, and many more software antidotes have appeared since then. International Charter now offers software developers a Spyware-Free Certification program.
According to an October 2004 study by America Online and the National Cyber-Security Alliance, 80% of surveyed users’ computers had some form of spyware, with an average of 93 spyware components per computer. 89% of surveyed users with spyware reported that they did not know of its presence, and 95% reported that they had not given permission for it to be installed.