What is Spyware?

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on October 16, 2000

Question

Can you tell me what “Spyware” is?

-Chuck

Answer

This question was answered on October 16, 2000. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.


There are several methods for a developer of software to distribute their products The mainstream method is to develop a retail package with printed documentation in a box and sell it through traditional retailers or the web This method of distribution is the most expensive for the developer and is reflected in the cost of the product

Another method for smaller developers that has been around for a long time is creating what is called “shareware” Sometimes referred to as “beg-ware”, shareware can be freely distributed and used on an evaluation basis Think of it as “try it before you buy it” software Usually the author has a statement on the program that says “if you like this program and plan to use it, send me $10” (hence the “beg-ware” label) This allows a smaller developer to distribute his program without having to go to the expense of packaging/marketing, but possibly generate some revenue for his hard work.

“Freeware” is the same as shareware, but there is no request for money even if you decide to keep it Most freeware developers create programs for free to bring attention to some other aspect of their business or organization Programs like Napster are freeware and can be the catalyst for a potential business.

The latest offering in software distribution is called “ad-ware” Much like commercial television or free Internet service providers such as Netzero, ad-ware developers generate income by displaying ads in their programs In addition to viewing these ad banners, demographic information is requested from you in order to determine which ads to send to you The tracking of your usage and reporting it back to the host companies website is what has spawned the term “spyware”.

Some of the ad-ware programs that are monitoring your use of a program as well as other aspects of your surfing habits have been doing so without making it clear to the user that this is happening One ad company, Radiate (www.radiate.com), has been accused of retaining the “Spy” software on your system even if you uninstall the original ad-ware program.

Not all ad-ware programs are “spyware”, but it seems the majority tend to use this methodology Fortunately, there are several things that you can do to prevent this from happening Most ad-ware developers will give you the option of removing the banners by paying the licensing fee Ad-ware programs typically require you to fill out a lengthy form during the installation of the program, so you can cancel the process if you feel uncomfortable with the questions.

Another option is to block the outgoing transmissions to the host website In a previous column, I explained the benefits of having a personal firewall program, such as ZoneAlarm (www.zonelabs.com - freeware) to protect your system from intrusions while connected to the Internet As it turns out, this same program can be used to block the outgoing “calls” made by spyware programs By default, ZoneAlarm alerts you to any programs that are attempting to access the Internet and will not allow it to continue unless you give it your approval.

If you want to check and/or remove any potential spyware programs on your system, you can visit <a href="http://www.spychecker.com "><font color="#003399">www.spychecker.com</font></a> This site will further explain spyware as well as give you resources for checking and removing ad-ware related files currently installed on your system.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on October 16, 2000

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