Steer clear of sneaky software
Most people wouldn't want an anonymous company following them around and spying on where they went, what they bought and, perhaps, more.
Bad news: spyware software does exactly that but on the internet. Worse: users are the ones who actually install it, usually without knowing what it is.
Let's imagine someone working in an office. For fun he installs a popular peer-to-peer file sharing application from the internet so he can download MP3 music files. He doesn't read the user licence (who does?) and the program installs a number of spyware applications alongside the main file sharing program.
Soon after, he notices that his internet browser has a new menu bar. He sees a lot more pop-up ads. His default web page and search engine are hijacked and take him to advertising sites. His computer and internet connection become slower. Behind the scenes, personal information about his computer habits is being uploaded to anonymous advertising companies.
All this makes money for the company that wrote the "free" file sharing application. It also generates an annoying, intrusive, difficult-to-remove nuisance for the user.
(As an aside, these kinds of file sharing applications are a problem in themselves. They waste bandwidth and employees' time and may create a legal liability for any company that allows their computers to be used to share pirated software or music.)
A more sinister form of spyware has emerged which enables corporate espionage and identity theft. While many of these programs, such as key loggers or remote administration tools, can be found on hacker websites there are, surprisingly, a large number of commercially available applications that do the same job.
These kinds of programs can bypass the best network security and, for example, give an outsider complete access to your files or transmit passwords or bank account information to criminals. Unlike advertising spyware, covert surveillance software covers its tracks and operates stealthily. "In terms of corporate espionage it's absolutely devastating," says Pete Sampson, ThreatLab manager at Clearswift, a security company.
Stamp Out Spyware