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Top Secret Software

What is spyware?!

For those of you who remember reading "1984" and briefly began wondering if someone was monitoring you through the TV hold on to your seats because it's not far off the mark -- but it is not your TV you need to worry about - - it's your computer!

Many consumers wonder what spyware is and what it does. Spyware programs are small applications that can get installed on your computer without your knowledge. These spyware programs can get installed either by downloading innocent looking software programs that include them or through ActiveX controls hidden within the source code of participating web sites or pop-up advertisements while you surf the internet. These bundled programs and ActiveX controls can install a wide range of unwanted software onto a users computer.

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Now don't get me wrong, I love surfing the internet and I am not against downloading a software program here or there -- I have downloaded many, and to be very honest - I never read the "terms of use" and went right to the install button but I will be a lot more selective from now on after I learned what is behind many of those free deals!

The Misconceptions about Spyware and Adware

There is a lot of confusion about the difference between spyware and adware. To most of us (the average person) a statement that something is "ad supported" means that we will have to put up with a few advertisements - no big deal right? We are all familiar with the concept of paid advertising on TV & Radio which is sponsored by companies who pay to have their products advertised on the most popular shows. But in the case of adware/spyware that is not what it means at all. It is a whole new game! What these adware and spyware programs are really doing is bundling additional software along with the one you wanted which they acknowledge will monitor your web surfing. But unfortunately it does not end there.

Now for the Facts

Currently there are well over 800 shareware - freeware products which also include adware and spyware and the numbers of web sites that include these types of installers is impossible to calculate. These Freeware and Shareware applications are located all over the internet as easy downloads. They can be found on CNet, Tucows and hundreds of other locations offering free & low cost bargains. Most of these products make no real statement that they include adware or spyware and if they do it is buried in the "terms of use" or at best they might make a vague reference that they are ad supported. Some developers might include a vague privacy statement which does not fully explain what information will be gathered or give a full explanation regarding what will be done with the information.

The known third-party applications bundled with these downloads include Cydoor, TopText, Onflow, Webhancer, BonziBuddy, ClickTillUWin, and New.net in addition to trojans and viruses such as the self replicating Nimda virus. These add on spyware/adware applications can deliver on line advertisements, collect information, assign computers user's a GUID for user tracking, overlay content or graphics on the Web site they are viewing, or modify their system settings.

What is even more alarming is that these estimates do not include the numbers from the many other download locations scatted across the internet nor do these figures include estimates of the various other Gnutella file sharing programs that are available or any of the 900 freeware or shareware programs that are downloaded each let a long the number of the "drive-by" "backdoor" installations. If these additional numbers were able to be calculated the total number of effected computers would be staggering and well be well over 600 million infected computers!

So - What exactly are they installing?

Here is a brief breakdown of what some of these newer adware/spyware programs can do once they are installed on your computer: In addition to doing a detailed check of your browser history, they install a wide assortment of DLLs and other executables files, they send a continuous data stream to the parent marketing company out from your computer and leave a backdoor open for hackers to either intercept your personal data or enter your computer, they can install other programs directly on to your computer without your knowledge, they can send and receive cookies to other adware/spyware programs and invite them into your computer (even if you have cookies disabled), and they can add Trojan horses into your system which perform a wide range of "mischief" on a users system including changing your home page and downloading unwanted images and information.

Many spyware and adware programs are fully independent executable files which are self sufficient programs which take on the authorization abilities of the user, they include auto install and auto update capabilities and can report on any attempts to remove or modify them. These programs can hijack your homepage, reset your browser favoirtes, reset your auto signature, disable or bypass your uninstall features, monitor your keystrokes on or off line, scan files on your drive, access your word processor, e-mail and chat programs, change homepages inaddition to displaying advertising content on or off line. Many of these spyware programs can read, write and delete files and in some instances sometime even reformat your hard drive and they do this while sending a steady stream of information back to the advertising and marketing companies.

What else can these programs do?

Unfortunately programs like Go!Zilla and LimeWire, iMesh, Kazaa along with most file-sharing apps, also install several adware applications to finance its development including TopText and Gator, Cydoor, and BonziBuddy.

Several of these adware and spyware marketers have been raising a lot of eyebrows within the internet community. eZula, TopText, Surf Plus, and Gator have all come under criticism for unethical advertising and marketing practices.

For you consumers out there I would like to throw out a few added comments about Gator's capabilities. Some of you might have seen the ads for this product which is advertised as a personal utility program to assist you in managing your personal information, banking records, credit card account numbers, passwords and other vital information and can process forms on your behalf while shopping on online -- sounds great -- if all the personal information it held was maintained and remained securely on your personal computer, but all of it does not and much of it gets included in the data stream to Gator's headquarters where it can be sold to third parties.

Our highly malicious program has the ability to uninstall and remove a highly effective program called PestBlock that many thousands of consumers use to protect their computers.

Some information for this page has been taken from web site Unwantedlinks.com and PrivacyAnywhere's PestBlock site.

 

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This article was updated on Nov. 06/2009 to maintain its relevance to today's current security concerns.
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