Spyware

benedelman-spyware-blogspot-2a Malicious websites may attempt to install spyware on readers’ computers. In this screenshot a spamblog has triggered a pop-up that offers spyware in the guise of a security upgrade.

In the field of computing, the term spyware refers to a broad category of malicious software designed to intercept or take partial control of a computer’s operation without the informed consent of that machine’s owner or legitimate user. While the term taken literally suggests software that surreptitiously monitors the user, it has come to refer more broadly to software that subverts the computer’s operation for the benefit of a third party.

Spyware differs from viruses and worms in that it does not usually self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, however, spyware – by design – exploits infected computers for commercial gain. Typical tactics furthering this goal include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements; theft of personal information (including financial information such as credit card numbers); monitoring of Web-browsing activity for marketing purposes; or routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites.

As of 2005, spyware has become one of the pre-eminent security threats to computer-systems running Microsoft Windows operating-systems (and especially to users of Internet Explorer because of that browser’s collaboration with the Windows operating system). Some malware on the Linux and Mac OS X platforms has behavior similar to Windows spyware, but to date has not become anywhere near as widespread.

History and development

The first recorded use of the term spyware occurred on October 17, 1994 in a Usenet post that poked fun at Microsoft’s business model. Spyware later came to refer to espionage equipment such as tiny cameras. However, in early 2000 the founder of Zone Labs, Gregor Freund, used the term in a press release for the ZoneAlarm Personal Firewall. Since then, computer-users have used the term in its current sense.

In early 2000, Steve Gibson of Gibson Research realized that advertising software had been installed on his system, and he suspected that the software was stealing his personal information. After analyzing the software he determined that they were adware components from the companies Aureate (later Radiate) and Conducent. He eventually rescinded his claim that the ad software collected information without the user’s knowledge, but still chastised the ad companies for covertly installing the spyware and making it difficult to remove.

As a result of his analysis in 2000, Gibson released the first anti-spyware program, OptOut, and many more software-based antidotes have appeared since then.  International Charter now offers software developers a Spyware-Free Certification program.

According to a November 2004 study by AOL and the National Cyber-Security Alliance, 80% of surveyed users’ computers had some form of spyware, with an average of 93 spyware components per computer. 89% of surveyed users with spyware reported that they did not know of its presence, and 95% reported that they had not given permission for the installation of the spyware.

Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses materials from the Wikipedia.

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