What is spyware software?
Edmund Burke once said, "Better be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident security." Nowhere is this philosophy truer than in the world of computer security, especially when facing the threat of invasion by spyware software.
Spyware is computer software that installs itself on your PC without your knowledge or consent. It does this in order to gather and report information about your surfing habits, your spending habits, even your online chats. This information is reported back to the spyware server, which is usually a company that sells user data to marketing and advertising firms. Sometimes the server is an individual with a mischievous side who might use your personal information for his or her own means.
Spyware can be annoying because of the detrimental effect it has on computers, but it can also become a real problem when the server has malicious intentions. Since spyware collects data about the user off their PC, it has the ability to record confidential information such as credit card numbers, passwords, even telephone numbers and addresses. Keep in mind that programs which alert the user to their presence and to the fact that they are collecting data are not spyware; the term relates strictly to software that the user does not know is there.
Spyware can infect your computer in a number of ways: through a virus, as a 'drive-by download,' or bundled with a popular download program that the user consciously chose to install. File sharing programs such as Kazaa and Audio Galaxy are infamous for including spyware in their software.
Some of the more notorious companies that include spyware in their downloads are WhenU, 180 Solutions and Claria. Although they do offer valid programs like Gator, which acts as a user 'aid' that remembers and fills in addresses and passwords, the risk associated with spyware software is not worth the extra help.
It is nearly impossible to remove spyware from your PC. The software manages to hide among files and often can only be erased with a spyware removal program. Spyware is posing such a threat to computer users that the federal government is investigating legal action to help regulate and even prohibit spyware software. The issue has moved onto the debating floor of Congress, which hopes to pass legislation regulating adware, which is advertising-supported software that works in conjunction with spyware.