Rage Against Spyware

TechWeb's Stuart Glascock offers some advice on winning the battle against Spyware.

November 6, 2004

3 Min Read
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Spyware is misnamed. It should've been called "scum-ware," "sleaze-ware," "sucks-ware," "anti-privacy-ware," "GeorgeOrwell-ware," or "waste-of-my-valuable-time-ware."

The term spyware is too innocuous. It conjures up something cool or mysterious, like a nifty crime-fighting gadget from a James Bond flick. Maybe that's why more people don't take it seriously. But spyware is nasty. Spyware bogs down PCs and networks. It cuts into individual productivity and ties up IT staffs. It also threatens personal freedom online.

In the physical world, we have laws against spying. It's just plain illegal -- not to mention creepy -- to do the things in real life that spyware does online. Think about it: You can't tape-record most telephone calls, but there's spyware software that logs keystrokes to record online conversations. You can't shadow a real person in a shopping mall and track their purchase decisions. You'd be arrested for harassment. But there's spyware that monitors and examines online shoppers' every move.

But I digress. Everyone knows by now, or should be aware, that we really cannot expect much privacy in the electronic world, right? Not exactly. We can still scratch out some small shred of dignity online if we're willing to fight for it. At a minimum, that means emphasizing daily anti-spyware computer hygiene. Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to help.

First step to take is to get informed. One of the most comprehensive and easily digestible discussions of the spyware problem is here. Aimed at IT pros as well as consumers, the InformationWeek Special Report gives you what you need to know. It covers enterprisewide strategies, downloads, and tons of reader recommendations.Second thing to do is stay informed. Did you catch the two simply stunning news stories about spyware in recent days? In the first, a study by America Online and the National Cyber Security Alliance found that most home computer users mistakenly believed they were safe from computer viruses, adware, malware and spyware. It said that most typical users don't understand the threats they face online. Those typical users, by the way, are often doing work at home. The second story, Spyware Threat Seen Larger Than Most Corporations Realize, reported Oct. 28, says that despite growing awareness of the spyware problem, fewer than 10 percent of corporations had instituted plans to protect their networks from it.

For ongoing discussion of the issue, SpywareWarrior seems to offer a pretty savvy forum.

Lastly, the most important thing to do is load some of the tools and clean out the sneaky, covertly-installed, PC performance-degrading gunk.

I use a combination of the most common, free, anti-spyware programs: Ad-Aware, Spybot and HiJackThis.

For users who don't have access to IT departments, I'd further recommend purchasing an anti-spyware product that comes with customer support. Spyware morphs all the time. It will take knowledgeable people to help you stay ahead of the bad guys.Spyware is more than a pest. And it's definitely misnamed. Creep-ware or sludge-ware would've been more accurate.

Stuart Glascock is editor of TechWeb.

The TechWeb Spin TechWeb's editors are busy assigning and editing and linking and otherwise creating the content you see on TechWeb.com and the Pipeline sites, but we wanted the chance to tell you what we see and what we think about it directly. So, each week, The TechWeb Spin will bring you the informed insight and unique perspective of a different TechWeb editor: Fredric Paul, Scot Finnie, Tim Moran, Stuart Glascock, and Mitch Wagner. We hope you like it, and even if you don't we hope you take the time to tell us what you think about it.

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