32. Spy-ware can hitch ride on
By Mark Alberstat
My computer isn't working nearly as fast as it once did. It seems slow to
open e-mail and visit Internet sites. There are also a lot more pop-up ads
then ever before. Is there something I can do?
-B. Lloyd, Fall River
Lurking inside many Windows-based PCs are dozens of files and programs
that are insidiously slowing down your computer and reporting your
movements back to Big Brother.
Although this sounds like a dire situation, it isn't as bad as it seems.
It is, however, far more common than most people would think.
While travelling the Internet today, users are bombarded by pop-up ads
offering all kinds of services and software, much of it for free. If you
have ever installed these add-ons, your computer probably has some amount
of spy-ware or ad-ware installed. These programs often offer users cute
backgrounds to their e-mails, browser helpers and even programs that allow
you to put smiling, waving or a dozen other types of smiley faces in your
Spy-ware is tiny programs that are loaded on your computer and run behind
scenes. They can monitor keystrokes, change system files and even transmit
your Internet activity back to some central server that monitors Internet
Although a recent court ruling has said that music-sharing programs are
perfectly legal in Canada, Kazaa is one of the most popular programs that
loads ad-ware. This fact is disclosed to the user, but only in the fine
print, which few people ever read.
There are a few programs that can find this software on your PC and get
rid of it for you. The two most popular ones are Spybot Search and Destroy
and Ad-aware. The basic version of each of these is free for the
These programs scan your PC's hard drive, memory and Windows Registry and
flag any questionable software it comes across. The user may then get the
software to delete it from their machine, or if they want, leave it there
Both of these programs can also track down a nastier segment of this
software sector, that being mal-ware. These programs, which are often
distributed via e-mail, include automatic diallers (which can add
long-distance calls to your phone line) and even add pornography links to
If you do want cute kittens (or other images) on the top bar of your
browser, or smiley faces in your e-mail, it is best to look into the
software being offered. Most of these programs have homepages that do,
buried deep inside, have the end-user licence agreement that spells out
what other programs may come along with their free offer.
The same precautions should be taken with the spy-ware-scanning software.
Like all software, it has defaults and assumed paths that are appropriate
for most users, but not all. A bit of time reading through the help file
may save users time in reinstalling a program or two they really do want
to use, like Kazaa, despite its ad-ware siblings that come along with
Although Microsoft has produced operating systems with several gaping
holes in them for security breaches like these software programs, its
Protect Your PC site is worth a surf.
The following is a list of sites for spy-ware removal software and general
information on this ongoing problem:
Info about spy-ware: www.spywareinfo.com
Microsoft's Protect Your PC:
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Originally published 18 April 2004