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French Version

Spyware spreads through the Internet: As if viruses were not enough!

As you surf the ‘net’ someone is spying on your activities, gaining knowledge of the sites you’ve accessed and collecting information about your Internet habits. How? Well, through a variety of tiny software programs attached to lots of free software you download of the Internet.

An application like Gator, which remembers your passwords, is a prime example. Approximately 30 million users have it on their PCs, and that’s what gives Gator power to know the Internet habits of those users.

It’s the least sneaky, though, as it asks users for permission to download. Gator includes links to information on how to uninstall the associated tracking and ad-serving software, unlike other spyware which you haven’t agreed to downloading and which you don’t know how to remove!

More trespasser-like software emerged over the past couple of years, and grown exponentially recently. So-called browser helper objects (BHO), attach themselves to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser software and act as a toolbar or other browser plug-ins. The worst thing such software could do is change your browser settings, including home pages and bookmarks, and make it difficult for people to change these back without their knowing their way around the Windows registry. Some of these programs have the ability to dig deep into your system, making it impractical to remove them. The means through which these programs find their way into your PC have become sneakier, with such software now being piggy-backed on free games you download. An example cited in the United States was a Java game called "Yo Mamma, Osama!", that came out after 11 September, 2001, in which the spyware activates itself every three minutes, sending data back to its publisher!

Even spam email you receive could include hidden HTML links to spyware, which is downloaded when a viewer opens it. They’re called ‘drive-by-downloads’, initiating an automatic download process when you view a Web page. Windows, however, will ask you whether or not you accept that download.

Which brings us to the biggest Spyware of them all: Windows XP. The new operating system from Microsoft collects information about your PC from the moment it’s installed. Microsoft says it’s part of anti-piracy efforts, to ensure that your copy of XP is original and to possibly figure out whether or not you’ve got original Microsoft applications on your PC. Either way, it feels like an invasion of privacy, and resembles the darker side of the Internet as a tool in the hands of software publishers.

How do you counter all this? There are a number of anti-spyware programs available, which once installed on your PC, informs you what spyware may be running on your machine. Just like anti-virus software, anti-spyware programs can detect programs known at the time, but will require continuous updates to keep up with new spyware on the Internet.

As if worrying about viruses, worms and trojans was not enough! Now, you’ve got to keep your eye on another threat. Don’t be complacent, it could already be sitting inside your PC.

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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