Now that spyware is the single most dangerous threat to home computers connected to the internet today, getting your hands on some sort of spyware and adware protection is critical. Spyware has outpaced computer viruses in its prevalence, and in the kind of damage it can do to your system.
If you plan on using your home PC to do anything on the internet, even minor emailing or a little light surfing, this kind of protection is a must-have.
What is spyware? Spyware is basically any kind of software that gets installed on your machine without your knowing it, and tracks your actions on the internet for marketing purposes, or causes your computer to perform tasks that you didn't request.
You can accidentally get this stuff installed on your computer, by downloading trials and demos of certain programs that have it “bundled”, like a lot of file sharing programs, (a lot, but not all of them) viewing email attachments, or even just visiting certain websites. Sometimes you get lucky and all it does is put a cookie or two on your machine and influence the types of banner ads you see (based on your web surfing habits) or give you a few pop-up ads.
Increasingly, though, companies are getting away with distributing spyware that hijacks your web browser home page, adds unsolicited desktop icons, and pollutes other parts of your web browser, like the screen you see when you hit “search”, and the page you get sent to if you misspell a web address. Instead, all you'll see are pages of ads. There's now a new breed of spyware that works like a Trojan Horse virus. Many log your keystrokes, passwords, logins, etc, typed in over a week or so and deliver them to the perpetrator. This is so serious that my antivirus program even catches this spyware. If you let this happen to you, you're leaving yourself open to some serious, serious privacy violations, not to mention likely fraud or identity theft.
Probably the most serious kind of spyware of all, however, affects your email programs. Some will send out a solicitation email to every person in your address book and “sent” items folder. Some spyware just tacks an annoying advertisement onto every email you send out. And these aren't the kinds of solicitations you would want any association with, either. This kind of stuff is the most serious of all, in my opinion. How would you like to have your boss get an email from you telling him to visit a distasteful porn site?
You can probably see by now that getting good spyware protection is more important than anything else. Viruses aren't really a huge deal anymore, because most people have some kind of antivirus programs, and viruses just aren't produced and distributed as much as they used to be. But the problem is, even the best antivirus software out there still doesn't take care of spyware; it's a different classification.
One of the main reasons spyware is so widespread is that it's mainly all still legal. Viruses aren't as much of a problem anymore because the people who start them almost always get tracked down, and sent to jail. But with spyware, most of what these components do isn't really malicious. You'd have to prove some kind of harm. So you saw a few ads. The case could often be made that you initiated whatever process got it on your machine anyway.
Anyone who tries to commit fraud against you by using spyware also won't really be doing it out in the open, so they probably won't get caught. It makes more sense to just get some good spyware protection and keep this from happening in the first place.
Two of the better programs out there meant to deal with this are Adaware and Spysweeper. I use both, but from what I've seen, Spysweeper seems to detect more different pieces of spyware that get on my system.
Also, while they're meant to complement one another, one feature Spysweeper has that Adaware doesn't is that it watches specific components of Windows for you, like your “Startup” programs, web browser “favorites” and your browser homepage. All changes get reported to you. You decide right then and there if you want to let it happen.
Adaware has a similar system, but lets you set it to deal with, and prevent any such changes to your system, without even asking you. It's like having your own digital bodyguard, watching your computer for you while you're free to surf.
If you're serious about your PC's security and your privacy on the internet, spyware protection is not an option, it's a must!
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