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What is spyware?
All your base are belong to us
By Red Squirrel


Spyware is a malicious piece of code that attaches itself to your operating system, modifies operating system files or/and otherwise runs stand alone and does nasty things to your computer. For some reason, it's not illegal, and it's not a virus. Viruses do more damage then spyware but spyware can be just as bad. In fact, virus scanners are starting to also detect spyware and help remove it.

It all depends on the spyware item (there are thousands out there) but in general spyware is a program that comes bundled with another program, such as KaZaA, that people want, and they install it, not knowing there's also spyware. If you read the entire license agreement, it will mention something, which is one of the reasons why spyware is not illegal. You just have to read the fine print. Spyware will usually do stuff such has log search keywords and send them to some server. From this point on, you will get ads targeted to what you typed, through the program the spyware came on, or by email, if they track down your email address, which is not that hard as they can search your registry for your email settings. So if you were looking for shoes and typed shoes in Google several times, the key logger will notice this and start sending ads footwear. Not all spyware work this way, but this is one example. Some spyware just sits in the background eating all your resources for no given reason. Most of it is just pointless and irritating.

There are many ways to get spyware, and here are some of them.

Social engineering: Gator, which is made by a company called GAIN is a good example. Sure it's a neat utility that can remember your passwords, but you have to look behind the scenes, or even on the GAIN website to realize that it has spyware such as OfferCompanion which tracks websites you visit! So use a more private way of storing your passwords. I actually found people installing gator on public computers! That is a very bad idea, even if it did not have spyware. Also, Gator/gain publishing is also known to sue companies for saying that it's spyware like I'm doing now through this article! But I think it's good to get the word out anyway, even if I get a cute legal-looking envelope in my mailbox titled GAIN Publishing Legal Department Head Office. (I'm scaring myself now so enough about Gator being spyware... malware ...um never mind)

Popularity: Popular programs, such as KaZaA also come embedded with spyware, and I mean embedded, as if you remove it, it will fail to start. (There are ways around this but I won't cover this here just use Kazaa Lite!) So spyware authors or whatever we want to call them, know that people like to use kaZaA to download stuff such as music and pirated software, so it's a perfect place to put spyware such as Cydoor.

Pirated software aka Warez: Software pirates and crackers that condone spyware will not only crack software such as Windows XP to make it useable by middle classed citizens that can't afford it, but they will also add spyware to it. So people will use KaZaA (which has spyware unless you use kazaa lite) to download pirated software, which will also have spyware. Next thing you know there's 100's of spyware items creeping on the system, grinding it to a halt.

Hijacks: As mentioned in my article on using an alternative browser, IE is the most vulnerable to hijacks and most people, unfortunately use it. A hijack is basically a piece of malicious code on a web page that will be let through the browser to install junk on the computer, and mess it up. Some of these hijacks also contain spyware. All it takes is a few malicious popups and you can kiss your PC goodbye (software wise) until you clean out all the junk, and not everyone knows how to do that so hijacks alone can cost quite allot of money for personal and business users.


There are many other ways to get spyware as well but these are the base ways it can enter your PC. The main difference between a virus and spyware is that a virus would do more damage in most cases, and try to spread more. Spyware usually does not try to spread much... but it can get quite nasty considering all the files it changes and adds to your system. In general most changes involve registry keys so you have to know what kind of bad keys to look for.


On the next page we'll look at getting rid of spyware.





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Latest comments (newest first)
Posted by Red Squirrel on July 07th 2004 (20:16)
Yep I use that program too for hijackers, works great!
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Posted by Red Squirrel on July 07th 2004 (16:46)
I'll have to check that out.

And another note, gator is now called claria. I bet that is their attempt to make people think it's not spyware, as gator is too widely known as spyware. Well time to get the word out that claria IS gator.

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Posted by Wren on July 07th 2004 (20:16)
This was posted on another topic, but here it is again for anyone who may not have seen it. Great free program that keeps spyware from installing.

http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/spywareblaster.html

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