Is your PC spying on you?

While spam and viruses have attracted a great deal of attention in recent months, users are also facing another threat: the growth of spyware on their systems.

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By  Peter Branton Published  April 18, 2004

While spam and viruses have attracted a great deal of attention in recent months, users are also facing another threat: the growth of spyware on their systems. Spyware is the term for software on a computer that can monitor a user’s actions, often without his knowledge. In the US, a recent survey has found that on average each user’s PC has nearly 30 such spyware items on it, with many of these being potentially dangerous. The survey, carried out by ISP EarthLink and software firm Webroot, covered just over one million PCs over a three month period, and found nearly 30 million examples of spyware. “While most spyware is adware-related and is relatively benign, it’s disturbing that over 300,000 of the more serious system monitors and trojans were uncovered,” said Matt Cobb, EarthLink’s vice president of core applications. “This figure represents how real a threat identity theft or system corruption is for users.” Adware is software that displays ads on an infected computer and sends data about surfing habits. More sinister, system monitors can surreptitiously watch what you do, steal personal information and despatch it across the web, while trojans can allow hackers to gain access to a user’s computer and steal information from it. Happily for users, a number of software packages now guard against spyware, including Symantec’s Norton Internet Security 2004 (reviewed in Windows Middle East December 2003) and McAfee Virus Scan (see the June issue of Windows Middle East).

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