Ever had the strange feeling that your every move is being watched as you surf the Web? Do you ever get unexpected or inappropriate pop-up ads coming up on your screen as you work diligently at your PC? Do you have programs that you don’t recall installing? If so, you may have a case of the Spyware blues. Spyware is any unwanted software that installs itself on your computer without your permission. The sole purpose of Spyware is to collect information about you, such as web browsing habits, to send back to a server designated by the Spyware software. Once your information reaches the server, the Spyware company sends you “tailored” ads or e-mails to target you with their products. Although this doesn’t sound bad, Spyware can do a lot of harm to your computer. The most obvious and most annoying effect is the pop-up ads which come up whenever you are browsing the Internet. Sometimes more than five pop-up ads may come up; trying to close them seems the logical thing to do, but usually more pop-up ads come up, causing your browser to crash. Pop-up ads can sometimes be obscene or inappropriate; this is especially bad if children are using the computer and they are exposed to these ads unintentionally. Spyware can also install toolbars or links from their affiliates so that whenever you search for something on the address bar, you will use whatever search engine they want you to. Spyware mostly comes from freeware and ad-ware programs that a computer user might download. A freeware program is a program that can be downloaded off the Internet for free. Although the user thinks he is getting a great deal by not buying the program, he is actually allowing other unwanted software into his computer. The most common programs that have Spyware are “p2p” file-sharing programs such as Morpheus, Kazaa, Imesh, and Grokster. Although you might not think that a Spyware company would warn you that their programs contain Spyware, many companies that support Spyware actually warn you in their license agreement before you completely install the program. However, very few users actually read the long license agreements. In order to prevent Spyware from being installed in your computer, certain steps can be taken. First, be careful about downloading freeware that is ad supported; more likely than not it contains Spyware. The second thing to do is to avoid downloading any program that might pop up on your screen claiming to be free. The most notorious company that tempts you to download programs to enhance your web experience is Gator Company. Gator offers many free utilities, but they carry Spyware that collects personal information about you and then gives it to third party companies to help them market products to you via email or pop-up ads. The best thing to do is to use an anti-Spyware program. There are many programs out there that claim they will detect and prevent Spyware activities on your computer. In my personal opinion, Ad-Aware by Lava Soft does everything it can to protect me against Spyware. Ad-Aware searches for anything that might be tracing me or that contains Spyware. Ad-Aware scans your hard drive thoroughly, and if anything is found, you are asked if you want to delete it. Ad-Aware seems to get the job done, although if you are not careful, it might delete the default search engine used when searching for something on a browsers web address bar. Now you know what Spyware is and what it does when it’s on your computer system. It is up to you to learn and try to prevent Spyware from invading your computer and your personal life. Please join us in our next issue, when we will talk about more ways your computer is susceptible to attacks, viruses, and hackers.