Spyware the expensive free extra

20/10/2010 10:39


Everyone has heard the saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It’s a saying which means that you pay for everything eventually, in one way or another. Even stuff which is free often has a hidden cost, and this couldn’t be more true of a growing problem affecting thousands of computers worldwide—spyware.

The reason that Spyware—and its closely-related cousin, Adware—can be described as a free lunch that is anything but free, is that it is often installed on a computer without the user’s consent by piggy-backing on some free software that the user downloaded from the internet, but then can end up costing a computer owner dearly.

A computer infected with Spyware can monitor the use of the computer and collect personal information without the user’s consent. Some of this personal information may be innocuous, but some may be extremely important and financially-sensitive, including passwords to membership sites, bank account details, credit card numbers and bank passwords. Not the type of thing anyone wants to fall into the hands of unscrupulous people. Some Spyware simply collects information to be used by marketing teams, though this does bring up issues of privacy, even if the information is not used for criminal purposes.

Adware could be said to be less malicious than Spyware, though it does operate in much the same way. Like Spyware, Adware is often downloaded along with a piece of free software and operates without the knowledge or consent of the user.

It is true that a lot of Spyware is simply used for marketing purposes and is not of the malicious type although it is still unwanted and unauthorized. When you suddenly see advertisements appearing that are completely unrelated to the web site they appear on, that’s a pretty good indication that somehow Adware has been installed. Another side-effect of both Spyware and Adware can be an extremely slow computer as the programs hog systems resources.

Both Spyware and Adware embed themselves into the operating system of the computer, which can make it extremely difficult to remove them. This is especially true of the forms of Adware and Spyware which conceal themselves on the computer—if the user doesn’t know they are there he isn’t going to try to remove them. Some types of Spyware can even bypass anti-virus software and then disable parts of it, which means the PC then becomes open to more infections from other Spyware of Adware programs.

So what is the best way to avoid a Spyware or Adware infection? Keeping your web browser up to date and ensuring your anti-virus software is the latest version is one way. But one of the simplest ways is to avoid downloading free programs from the internet. Those free programs may give you something cool to play with—but they may also give you something not so cool along with it. The next time you’re tempted to download some free program that sounds good, remember the saying that there really is no such thing as a free lunch—especially when it comes to computer security.


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