If you are a regular Internet user, then you’ve perhaps come across the term “spyware”. This is a pretty good definition of what these programs are. Spyware is a program that exists within your computer system to carry out functions like displaying unwanted ads, recording your keystrokes, and even monitoring how much you use your computer.

These programs enter your computer system without you even aware of it (just like real spies). They may slip past you when you’re downloading music, or they may even be disguised as programs that you thought were not harmful. That’s how tricky the authors of these programs are.

So what exactly does this mean for you? The implications of this range from the frustrating, to the down-right maddening. On the other hand, some spyware programs simply generate pop-up ads while you are browsing. Others can re-define your browser’s homepage.

Screenshot of Ad-Aware 2007

flickr.com/vizzzual-dot-com

The other, more disturbing, part of this, is that some spyware takes note of what your computer habits are, what sites you surf, and even (and this is the scariest part) can hack your user name, passwords, and credit card information. This data is then sent back to the person spying on you. Really, there is no telling what he or she will then do with that information.

There are programmers, however,  who have worked on solutions addressing spyware. These processes come in the form of anti-spyware programs. Anti-spyware programs are designed to identify  the spyware that live in your computer. These anti-spyware programs are like dogs trained to sniff out the spies and warn you of their presence.

So just how does anti-spyware function? How is it able to identify programs that are designed not to be found?

Just like other programs, Spyware has a code that differentiates it from other programs. That code is known as signature. That signature is as unique to that program as a fingerprint. Each anti-spyware program carries a vast database of these signatures.

When the anti-spyware scans your computer for spyware, it compares all of the documents in your system to signatures in its database. If it finds a match between a signature in the database and a file in your computer, it raises a warning. It then gives you the option to remove that file or to quarantine in order to report it later.

You might be asking, “why would I want to quarantine spyware and report it? Wouldn’t it be better to just remove it?”

Not exactly.

The authors of spyware know that anti-spyware programs will get rid of their creations. In order to keep on advertising on your computer or stealing data, they create new spyware that has signatures that haven’t yet been recorded in anti-spyware databases.

This is why you can put a document suspected of being spyware in quarantine, and why reporting it to anti-spyware creators is so important. The programmers are warned of this suspicious file and they examine it to see if it is really spyware. If they determine that it is, they’ll update their anti-spyware signature database to include the program to identify the new spyware.

So if you’re a regular Internet user, it is a better idea that you install anti-spyware programs. It is best to have at least two anti-spyware installed, as one program working alone may not have a database as extensive as two. That way, you have a much safer net with which to screen for spyware that enters your system.

Getting more than one anti-spyware program will not cost you too much.  In fact, it  may cost you nothing at all! Several reputable anti-spyware programs are accessible for free. (Ad-Aware, and Spybot: Search and Destroy are the most popular). The authors of anti-spyware do so for reasons ranging from building a good reputation, to allowing you to sample their product.

Installing anti-spyware in your system should not be the end of your spyware campaign.  Check your anti-spyware program’s website regularly in order to look for updates, so that you can continue to detect new spyware.

These days, securing your data is as important as securing your actual homes. Arm  yourself with better anti-spyware and you will be a step closer to breathing easier when you go online.

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