Spyware. Just the name alone sends my mind reeling,
conjuring up images of Spiderman, Batman and Clark Kent-looking,
trench-coat-wearing men whose heads are bent slightly forward with
eyes shifting back and forth as they talk into their
What IS spyware, and why am I in need of a Super
Spyware programs, otherwise known as “adware,” are
programs that monitor what you are checking out when you’re online.
They are HIDDEN software programs that, once on your computer,
constantly retrieve the 4-1-1 and gather data about your online
activities without your knowledge or approval. Scary, huh?
Another version of Spyware is known as “scumware.”
While spyware is virtually undetectable by even the Internet savvy,
scumware makes itself known. If you type in one Web address and are
directed to another, Ladies and Gentlemen may I introduce
The information gathered about what you do when
online is provided to people and companies who might be
interestedsuch as “advertisers.” Hence the nickname “adware.”
Examples of information that can be gathered include: passwords,
Web sites you’ve visited, any information saved on your computer
actually, just about anything. I want to point out that once this
information has been gathered, it can be sold over and over again.
It is anybody’s guess where or in whose hands or in what corner of
the earth this information will end up.
And, yes, my friends, it is legal. The good news is
that an anti-spyware law was proposed back in February 2004, so the
politicos are paying attention. Though currently legal, Spyware is
definitely counted among the black sheep of the Internet family and
not regarded too highly by Web advertisers with a conscience.
What I personally find the most frightening aspect
of this is that enough information on me could easily be built up
so that my identity could be stolen. And, according to Webroot.com,
“Spyware infects 9 out of 10 PCs connected to the Internet, and has
eclipsed viruses as the #1 threat to online privacy.” That got my
So, how does your computer get infected?
Frighteningly enough, your computer is infected
when you surf the Web. Cookies (small pieces of information
inserted onto your computer), MP3 filesharing, free software
downloads and even the friendly toolbars you download from Google
or Yahoo! can allow others to track and retain what you are
visiting online and then log and dissect every keystroke you make
on your computer’s keyboard.
While you need to read the fine print when
downloading from Google or Yahoo! (to find out what information of
yours they will and will not track and then sell), cookies and MP3
filesharing will drop programs onto your computer that will run in
the background. You’ll never know that they’re there taking in
every site and every keystroke so that they can turn around and
sell your personal data.
Finding the cure
How do you conjure up a
Super Hero for your computer?
While you wouldn’t dare connect to the Internet
without an anti-virus software program, you shouldn’t connect to
the Internet without your anti-spyware program, either. Think of
the anti-spyware program as a virtual shredder for your
On my computer, I run a program by Webroot called
Spy Sweeper (for Windows). There are other programs out there, as
well: Spyware Eliminator, AntiSpy, Ad-Aware and so on. (For more
programs, type “anti-spyware programs” into your favorite search
The first time I ran Spy Sweeper on my computer, I ran the free
download. It inspected 37,122 files/folders on my computer and
uncovered 99 hidden spyware programs! Yes, I was concerned
concerned enough to sign up.
For those of you techno-phobes, the program is
extremely easy and the news gets even better! You can run the free
trial program before you pay the $29.95/year to sign up. The first
time I ran the program, it only took 10 minutes and 15 seconds (it
told me that at the end of the session).
So, pick up your Kitchen & Bath Design News
magazine and walk over to your computer. I promise you, this is
something you don’t want to put off.
Step by Step
If you want to try the free
trial on Webroot (and you use Windows), go to www.Webroot.com. All
you have to do is click once on “Spy Sweeper.” That will take you
to a whole page of information detailing what Spy Sweeper is and
just exactly what it does to fight spyware.
Once you read that information, at the bottom of
the page, you have the option of signing up or trying the program
for free. As I mentioned, the first time I ran the program, I tried
it for free.
Click on “try it for free.” Next, open the program.
Once you accept the service agreement and the program’s page pops
up on your computer, you’ll have to go to the left side of the
pop-up and click on “sweep now.” This is the one thing I didn’t
like about the program: If you’ve never used it before, at this
point it’s not quite clear what to do next.
Once you’ve clicked on “sweep now,” it will guide
you through several very simple steps. Note that you will have to
close anything open on your computer, other than the Spy Sweeper,
in order to get started.
Once the results are returned to you, don’t forget
to hit “Quarantine.” This will ensure that the bad spyware is
deleted and removed from your computer.
I make a point of writing “bad” spyware because,
believe it or not, there is GOOD spyware. You install good spyware
on your computer to keep your kids from surfing to places on the
Internet where they are just too young to be, and good spyware
helps us monitor our homes when we are away.
While I may not have a wristwatch I can talk into,
I do think of my anti-spyware program as my computer’s own super
hero out to protect it from dastardly deeds of the Jokers, and even