What is Spyware?
In general, Spyware is any technology that aids in gathering information
about a person or organization without their knowledge. On the Internet,
Spyware is programme that is put in someone's computer to secretly
gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or
other interested parties. Spyware can get in a computer as a software
virus or as the result of installing a new program.
Data collecting programs that are installed with the user's knowledge
are not, properly speaking, Spyware, so long as the user fully understands
what data is being collected and with whom it is being shared.
What is Adware?
Adware is any software application in which advertising banners
are displayed while the program is running. The authors of these
applications include additional code that delivers the ads, which
can be viewed through pop-up windows or through a bar that appears
on a computer screen. The justification for Adware is that it helps
recover programming development cost and helps to hold down the
cost for the user.
Adware has been criticized for occasionally including code that
tracks a user's personal information and passes it on to third parties,
without the user's authorization or knowledge. This practice has
been dubbed Spyware and has prompted an outcry from computer security
and privacy advocates, including the Electronic Privacy Information
How did it get there?
There are three major ways unsolicited commercial software can
make its way on to your machine:
Some freeware programs are ‘bundled’ with parasites,
which are installed at the same time. P2P file-sharing programs
are notorious for this; in particular, iMesh and Grokster come with
countless unwanted add-ons.
Often when you install the software it will warn you about this,
and it is sometimes possible to opt out. So always skim the licence
agreement when you install and don’t just click Next-Next-Next...
but you still can’t be sure they’ll tell you.
Many parasites load using Internet Explorer’s ActiveX installation
option. When a web page includes a link to an ActiveX program, a
window will appear asking the user wishes to execute it. If ‘Yes’
is clicked (or if IE security settings are set lower than normal,
so that it never even asks), the software is allowed to run and
can do anything at all it likes on our computer, including installing
For this reason, you should never click ‘Yes’ to a
“Do you wish to download and install...” prompt unless
you are 100% sure you trust the publisher of the software, which
might not be the publisher of the web site you are viewed —
read the dialogue box very carefully.
Sometimes sites (or pop-up ads) try to fool you into clicking ‘Yes’
by stating that the software is necessary to view the site, or opening
endless error windows if you click ‘No’, or claiming
that the digital certificate on the code means it is safe. It means
no such thing. ‘Microsoft Authenticode’, signed by companies
like Verisign, means only that the company that wrote the software
is the same as the company whose name appears on the download prompt
— nothing more.
Some of the really sleazy parasites, particularly homepage-hijackers
and diallers, work by exploiting security holes in Internet Explorer,
i.e. ways of getting code to run that are not supposed to be possible.
You can do your best to guard against this by ensuring you have
the latest updates and patches from Microsoft. However, there are
usually a handful of security holes that have not yet been corrected,
so you can never be 100% sure you are safe.
One way of reducing your risk of exploitation is to go to Tools->Internet
Options->Security and set the security level for the Internet
Zone to ‘High’. (If no slider is visible, click ‘Default
level to make it appear first.) Then set the security level for
the Trusted Zone to ‘Medium’ and add the sites you use
and trust to this zone; you may need to do this quite often as many
badly-designed sites just won’t work in high-security mode.
An alternative solution for the last two problems is just to use
a different web browser for everyday browsing, and Internet Explorer
only for sites you trust that stubbornly refuse to work with other
How do I know if I have Spyware on my machine and how
do I remove it?
The best way to protect against Spyware is to run an application
that identifies and removes it. There are software packages that
sweep away everything from cookies to Adware to Trojans. These tools
operate much like antivirus software. The software developers have
identified hundreds of Spyware files, folders, and Registry keys
and search for them on your hardware, offering to remove them when
they turn up.
If you treasure your privacy, these tools are essential. Even if
you locate Spyware on your own, manually deleting it is difficult.
Some Spyware includes tricklers, which reinstall files as you delete
them. An Anti-Spyware program is more likely to be able to eliminate
Like virus developers, Internet spymasters race to stay ahead of
removal products. Many Anti-Spyware programmes are free or offer
free trials, we recommend you at least scan your system to find
out what's really on your PC.
Shoalnet/Fastrac recommends Ad-Aware SE Personal and Spybot Search and Destory to remove Adware and Spyware. You can download them from our Software Download section on the left.
For Walkthroughs on how to use Ad-Aware and Spybot, see our Walkthrough section on the left.