Spyware: Things you ought to know...

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You lock you car before leaving it on the street in some places, don't you?

You need to be careful about aspects of using your computer, too. You wouldn't tell a stranger the password to one of your online accounts, I hope? Spyware is a way for others to get such information without your knowing help. So how do you avoid un-knowingly telling?

Much of what follows is "dated"... I wrote it long before this paragraph, which is new 11/20. But the principles remain. Indeed many things that are part of using computers today might be called "spyware". SOME of them are all but unavoidable. But because the landscape has become more complex, you need to be MORE careful. You mustn't throw in the towel, just say "It's all too much for me." AT LEAST have a GOOD anti-malware package in place, and doing its updates properly. For years (at 11/20) I've used eSet's product for all of my anti-malware needs. That, and been careful in what I do on my computers.

It is possible for a programmer to give you two programs in one. The first might be a simple free game which you might be inclined to pass on to friends. Buried within it can be a second program which could do lots of things, but one of the most worrying is that it could "watch" what keys you type, and send reports back to the programmer from time to time, typically when you are on the internet. Another, less dangerous, but perhaps more annoying, payload which spyware can deliver is "junk mail" which will clutter your screen.

How do you get infected? By installing programs, which you may do intentionally, or by opening email attachments, or by visiting the wrong websites without proper firewall protection. Of course, if you are not the only person who can access the computer you are using, there is always the chance that someone else got it infected with spyware.... or that they deliberately installed a keystroke logging program. In the latter case, as long as they can re-visit the machine later, it doesn't need an internet connection to compromise your passwords.

How can you protect yourself from spyware?

Start with good anti-virus and firewall protection. They are both present in a good "anti-malware" suite. (A virus is just one sort of malware.) Don't, by the way, fall for the I-hope-now-dead myth that you can't get viruses on a Mac (Apple).

There are additional programs to help you... but be sure you only go near reputable ones. There are many wolves out there wearing sheep's clothing. More on them in a moment.

As much as I hate to say it, I really, really would move to Windows 10... for reasons of "security". But it is very much a damned if you do, damned if you don't proposition.

You need to know that "spyware-like" activity can be part of legitimate programs. Opera and Eudora can be used without paying any cash... if you agree to allowing some very modest space on your screen to be used for advertising. If you want to get rid of the ads, you just have to pay for the software. An anti-spyware program will probably notice the activity. You will then say "That's okay, I know about that one, and want to permit it."

Long ago, there were two protective programs mentioned often as being well written and effective. They may still (11/20) be around... I've stopped following that aspect of things, relying on eSet, and a provessioanl techician. The were Lavasoft's Ad-Aware and Spybot Seek and Destroy. Both were free downloads. There was more about what spyware is at their sites. I first learned about much of this from a discussion of spyware at Weather Graphics' interesting site. (They no longer appear to have anything about spyware, but I'm leaving this link "for old time's sake"!) I would also like to thank the British magazine Computer Shopper for the good material in their Feb 2005 issue. (Rest in peace: A victim of Covid, after 32 years of fabulous service to the computing community.

This paragraph dated: Not checked for a LONG time at 11/20... but similar is probably available from currently reputable web pages. STAY AWAY from pages without a reputation! There are many pages that purport to "check" when actually what they do is INSTALL!...Protect yourself: One simple thing you can do is to visit www.grc.com from time to time and run their free security check, "Shields Up". The results are not the simplest thing to read, but the issue of whether your system is vulnerable isn't simple either. (Is that grammar right? "results"... plural... "not the simplest thing"... singular... "to read". Seems right, but "shouldn't" be?? I prefer programming languages to natural languages!!)

Long ago, I recommended WinPatrol. It tried to help you with existing infestations, and to guard against becoming infected. 11/20, I gather it deteriorated, and finally ceased to exist. My thanks to the good people at for pointing out the bad link. I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE LEGITIMACY OF THE FOLLOWING... but thought this link had earned a palc ehere, if only by way of thanks to the people who letting me know about the bad link on the page you are reading. The page they suggested is...


It is (and the link here takes you there) A review of 8 WinPatrol alternatives.

This paragraph dated: Not checked for a LONG time at 11/20... but similar is probably available from currently reputable web pages. STAY AWAY from pages without a reputation! There are many pages that purport to "fix" when actually what they do is MAKE WORSE!...If you become infected... good luck to you. For stubborn things, you may need to employ "Hijack This". DO NOT just waltz into the Hijack This community and post logs without some careful preparation. Hijack This is a program which examines your computer and prepares a report, the "log" I just mentioned. *IF* you have done everything else that you should, FIRST, you send that log to experts. They then advise you. Start your study of "Do I need Hijack This" at the excellent SpywareInfo site, rated by PC Magazine as "One of the 100 sites you cannot live without". How do you get Hijack This? The answer is at the SpywareInfo site.
Don't be scammed! If you get a message on your machine saying that you're infected, ignore any "Just click here, and we'll help you remove it" type stuff. There are people out there who infect you, and then charge you for removing what they've done.

In addition to the things that Ad-Aware and Spybot can protect you from, you need to be aware of another way for people to find out what you've been typing.

This paragraph dated: Not reviewed for a LONG time at 11/20... but I know no reason to believe these have gone away: A long time ago at 11/20, someone devised very neat little piece of hardware which the "bad guy" inserts between the keyboard and the computer. In the early days as fat as a PS/2 plug, and about 3cm long. Typically, it would be attached to the end of the keyboard's cable, and plugged into the connector on the outside of the "box"... but it could be installed inside the box. Once that is in place, it monitors what people type. The "bad guy" comes along at his/ her leisure, opens up something like Notepad, types "MySecretPassword", and into the Notepad document spills 128k or more of recent keyboard activity. At the time I write this, that is 35 times the text in this document. There are also ways to do essentially the same thing using programs within the computer. They give the bad guy more things to overcome to install them... but in many cases, it wouldn't be difficult. Long before 11/20, it of course became possible to for the bad guy to harvest the keystroke log remotely.

Do you use computers at the library, in a hotel lobby, at an internet cafe? As Phil always said: "Let's be careful out there....."

Progress? Not! I first started warning people about spyware on one of my pages in December 2001. It seemed pretty esoteric then. I'm sorry that malware in general has become a mainstream serious problem. Once upon a time, the malware writers were like kids throwing bricks through windows. In some ways, we didn't know how lucky we were. In those days, if you got hit by malware, you knew it, and the writers were disaffected mis-fits on the fringes.

Today the problem is much more serious for two reasons:

As we were waxing all nostalgic a moment ago, let me share another story: Around 1984 I was working in a school. A colleague was alarmed by reports of pornography being circulated on floppy discs. (5- 1/4" floppies, of course!) I told him not to worry... graphics were so crude in those days that the viewer needed a good imagination. I guess I'd be more concerned today.

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