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Is Spyware Watching You?

Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from a friend who told me he'd been the victim of a "spyware" attack that left him shaking at his loss of privacy.

I listened to his horror story with a sympathetic ear, but I felt secure since I carry anti-virus software and a firewall (both by Norton).

At his suggestion - and to my surprise - I ran a program called "Spy Sweeper" and found a veritable minefield of dangerous and harmful programs lurking on my computer.

"Spyware" is software that gets onto your computer and literally "spies" on your activities.

The spying can range from relatively harmless use of cookies tracking you across multiple websites... to extremely dangerous "keystroke loggers" which record passwords, credit cards, and other personal data. That data then gets relayed to the person who put the software on your computer.

Three primary types of spyware exist to complicate your online life, including:

1. "cookies"
2. "adware"
3. malicious programs like "keystroke loggers"

Cookies represent mostly a danger of lost privacy.

In theory, someone could use a "cookie" to track you across multiple sites, combine that data with several databases, and figure out a lot more information about you than would make you comfortable.

"Adware" tracks more than just your movement across sites, it spies on your installed software and computer habits to then serve up advertising, modify websites before you see them, and generally do things without your knowledge with the intention of trying to get you to buy things.

"Keystroke loggers" and other malicious programs exist for one purpose: to cause personal mayhem and financial damage.

Spyware gets on your computer in one of several different ways.

First, it rides along with software you download from the 'Net and install on your system.

Second, they come as email attachments (much like viruses) and automatically install themselves on your computer when you open the email message.

Third, hackers find an open port on your computer and use the "back door" to install basically anything they want.

And fourth, the more malicious types, like keystroke loggers, can even get installed by someone with direct physical access to your computer such as an employer, suspicious spouse, business competitor, or someone who wants to know exactly what you're doing.

Now, suppose you carry an up-to-date anti-virus program and a firewall - shouldn't that represent potent protection?

In a word: NO!

I can personally attest that even the most up-to-date anti- virus programs and firewalls will not (repeat, WILL NOT) catch all the spyware that can infest your computer.

You need a program that specifically scans your system for the tens-of-thousands of existing spyware programs along with the new ones appearing daily.

Check out "Spy Sweeper" from webroot.com - this is the program I used to discover the spyware on my computer.

One thing I noticed, however, is that this program is a memory hog, so once I scanned, I turned it off and then use it 2-3 times a week... not the best strategy, but I want to give you the "whole" picture.

I also got the following recommendations from numerous subscribers about 2 programs to specifically help identify and remove spyware from your system (PC):

1. "Ad Aware" from lavasoft.de
2. "Spybot Search & Destroy" from safer-networking.org

The overwhelmingly recommended firewall suggested by readers was Zone Alarm Pro from Zone Labs => http://www.ebookfire.com/zonealarm.html

The bottom line seems pretty simple (but lengthy) if you want to protect yourself against this growing threat.

~ Keep your anti-virus program current
~ Install a firewall
~ Carefully screen software before installing it
~ Scan for specifically for spyware weekly
~ Stay current on this growing threat.

(c) Jim Edwards - All Rights reserved
http://www.thenetreporter.com

About the Author:

Jim Edwards is a syndicated newspaper columnist (http://www.TheNetReporter.com) and is the author of several best-selling ebooks, information products and software programs.

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