Identifying Spyware: Malicious, Annoying or Misunderstood?
In part one, we defined spyware and discussed its various symptoms. If you believe your computer has been infected with some sort of adware or spyware, there are a number of ways to identify the culprit. It's usually easier to identify adware because it is often less mischievous than spyware and can come from organizations that are widely considered legitimate.
Some adware sites consider Forbes.com Business Alerts to be adware because it run in stealth mode in the background. It also displays business news on your desktop. Some people have accused GoogleToolbar of being spyware because it includes a Page Rank feature that tells Google where people are surfing on the Web. Ironically, the Google Toolbar offers pop-up blocking, which can help keep unwanted ads and download windows from appearing as you navigate the Web. The Page Rank feature on the Google Toolbar can be disabled if you want to enjoy the benefits without any stealthy activity.
Most of the Web browser toolbars, like Google and the eBay Toolbar, (known as Browser Helper Objects, or BHOs) are technically spyware, but they are also useful to some people. Check this link for a fairly complete list of BHOs and their file names.
Instant Messaging Pestware
An application called Buddylinks, which requires end-users to download, install, and agree to an end-user agreement, is known to spread marketing messages via AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM). It appears to be a recommendation from an AIM user that encourages contacts to visit a Web page to download a video game, such as the "Osama Found" game.
Buried in the software's accompanying End User License Agreement (EULA) is a statement that AIM users who download it explicitly give their permission to send marketing messages to their Buddy List contacts. In this way, the program can spread itself by sending links to the Web page while seeming to come from a known contact.
For more information, read this article:
Research Before You Download
Because spyware is often included with freeware and shareware, it doesn't hurt to do research on programs before you download them. A simple Google search, a visit to security-related forums, or checking sites devoted to spyware and anti-virus software can alert you to any problems people have reported with software.
Sites to Research Spyware
There are several databases online that track spyware and adware and give you information about the potential impact they can have on your computer.
- Computer Associate Spyware Encyclopedia
- Spybot Search & Destroy
- Counter Exploitation
Locating Pests on Your PC
You'll find most annoying yet legitimate programs on a PC without much effort and with only a basic knowledge of where Windows keeps programs. The truly bad spyware programs make it much more difficult, because they have everything to gain from going undetected.
Your first stop should be the Add/Remove Programs section of your Windows Control Panel (Start Menu/Settings/Control Panel). You should also check the Windows Start-Up Folder (C:Documents and Settings/All Users/Start Menu) to see if any programs have been added. If you are unsure of what a program is, check it against the spyware databases.
You'll also find evidence of spyware infestations in your computer's registry. Only experienced computer users should change the registry, and there are registry editors available that help makes changes when necessary. You can also use registry monitors to keep track of which applications are accessing your computer's registry.
Registry monitors include:
Stop by tomorrow for part three of the series when we discuss spyware prevention.
Adapted from intranetjournal.com.
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