Spyware :: Information :: Concerns

Spyware - Why the concerns?

Spyware has quite recently started to get media attention. Only a few years ago spyware programs may be thought of by most to be keylogger type programs, used perhaps by hackers try to obtain sensitive information like passwords. There is a growing trend which has only started to happen in the past 2 or 3 years. Consider the following, an individual or company has developed a program, which they believe will be popular. However, many people these days downloading programs from the Internet are looking for free programs, as many freeware programs will probably do the same thing. Charging the customer for the program will no doubt dramatically reduced the number of people wanting to use it. Instead, what the developer can do is make money from the customers indirectly. This involves forming an agreement with one or more companies which pay the developer to place their own small program(s) as part of your application. They tend to operate by collecting private data from it's users. These programs are called spyware, just like keyloggers, but they tend to vary by exactly how they collect data and how much data they obtain. Some are nowhere near as intrusive as keyloggers.

Exactly how large the problem is can clearly be seem by visiting these programs sites. File sharing applications like Kazaa for instance, received 2.6 million downloads in one week alone (according to kazaa.com). Kazaa is one of the 1000 or so popular programs out there that bundle their program with 3rd party software to help make them a large profit at the expense of it's users privacy. The problem is huge, with reports claiming that as many as 85% of users have spyware programs installed on their machine (according to newsfactor.com). Rather confusingly these 3rd party software programs (classified spyware in most cases) may also try to provide a service. I feel this is normally to try to make its clear privacy intrusion to it's users more acceptable. The service is usually not useful such as monitoring all sites the user visits in order to display targeted advertising. Many spyware programs work this way and try to make out that the user will have "special" information which will be only available to them, and the service will be a real benefit.

Even worse is the fact that spyware programs are often difficult to remove or to make them stop functioning. Many companies tend to make this process difficult - it's not in their interest for you to stop sending them information about your privacy. Virus checkers just don't seem to recognise them, this is because the user is normally informed (sometimes within a long disclaimer) exactly what the 3rd party software will do. Other security measures like Firewalls can help, but not always. This is because many can install and send out information via Internet Explorer. Whereas in most cases an experienced user could block specific ports or IP addresses, the average computer user wouldn't be able to do this.