Spyware has been a growing menace for several years. It includes a broad category of software intended to take partial control or intercept a computer's operation without the user's consent. The term "spyware" has come to refer to any software that subverts, for the benefit of a third party, a computer's operation.
Spyware is a common problem affecting computers running Microsoft Windows operating systems. It differs from viruses and worms in that it is designed to exploit infected computers for commercial gain. Typically this may include unsolicited pop-up advertisements, monitoring of Internet browsing activity and theft of personal information such as passwords, bank account information and credit card numbers.
The first anti-spyware software was released in 2000. Since then many software developers have introduced such software. According to a study by America Online in 2004, 80% of surveyed user's computers had some form of spyware on them. Moreover, the average infected computer containted 93 spyware components and 89% of the surveyed users with spyware did not know of its presence.
Spyware generally infects a system through deception rather than self-replication like a virus. The most common method if infection occurs when the computer user installs another software application. The spyware piggybacks on the other software being installed or tricks the user into permitting the spyware to install itself. Some spyware holds itself out to be a useful utility program. Only after installation does the user find out that it is causing harm or acting in a malicious manner.
Windows based computers can accumulate many spyware components in a short period of time. The cumulative effects of having many spyware components on a computer, each taking limited control of a system, can be very frustrating. Symptoms can include severely degraded system performance and system crashes. In many cases the user is unaware of the presence of spyware on the computer until the computer is serviced to correct these symptoms. For badly infected systems, a complete wipe of the hard drive and re-install of all programs may be required.
Some spyware modify system files to make themselves harder to be removed. Upon removal, the spyware may simply re-install itself. In other cases the removal of the spyware results in needed system files being damaged or removed necessitating a re-install of the operating system.
Gaining unauthorized access to a computer is illegal in the United States under computer crime laws. Since computer owners infected with spyware generally claim to have never authorized the installation such installations appear to be against the law. However, few prosecutions of spyware creators have occurred.
The software creators generally argue that the user has in fact given consent by accepting the end user license agreement (EULA). Many users habitually don't read these agreements when installing software and it may be considered an acceptance of the installation of the malicious spyware. Some spyware EULA's actually claim that removal of the spyware, once installed, is illegal! Such EULA notices themselves may be be illegal.
As the spyware threat escalates, more effective programs are being created to remove or block these programs. There are a number of low cost or free solutions to allow users to remove or prevent infection by most spyware programs. It is best to investigate these solutions and select one to use before a computer becomes infected since prevention is usually accomplished easier than removal.
Where can you find free anti-spyware software?
A keyword search on Google will provide several links to popular spyware removal and prevention solutions.
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