How a Spyware Program May Infect You

One of the biggest problems on the Internet is the epidemic of spyware infection. A spyware program gathers information about the computer user without the user's knowledge. Most spyware is downloaded onto a computer with the user's knowledge or consent and uses the resources of the computer without the consent of its owner. As bad as that sounds, a spyware program is rarely malware. It does not replicate itself to use up the computer's resources or spread to other computers through email. As its name implies the spyware program spies on the user. It can be used to log keystrokes, track Internet use or spy on the contents of the computer's hard drive. It can be used to steal passwords for the computer or for secure sites visited by the user. Sometimes a spyware program is downloaded along with a requested software program. This can be a plug-in for an online game, a program needed to play music or even a free spyware blocking program. This is called "piggybacking."

Where Does It Come From?

A spyware program can come bundled with desirable software package. This is never an accident. Either the software bundler is paid by the advertiser who uses the spyware or the advertiser acquires the software bundle and adds its spyware to the mix. Internet Explorer and some other browsers block downloads unless specifically requested by the user's action. A link has to be clicked to start the download. Since the Internet browser can't the user's intent, it can't tell whether the link is a web site option clearly showing that a program is to be downloaded or a choice on a pop-up asking whether or not a user desires a service. Hint: the download can occur no matter which option is selected.

Sometimes, the programming of an Internet browser or other software on the computer can allow a spyware program to exploit a security opening. Simply visiting a web site can lead to a "drive-by download" to occur. This does not happen often, since the spyware program has to get past a firewall and other security programs. Often, this type of spyware program is written to bypass leaks in Internet Explorer security. So many users access the Internet using Internet Explorer that it makes sense to target this browser. Its integration with Windows on the hard drive of the computer allows for a solid point of attack for the spyware programmer. It is also the best route for a spyware program that is intended to install a toolbar or direct traffic to an advertiser's site. A trusted anti-spyware program is the Internet user's best protection.