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Spyware Overview

Spyware is a categorical term given to applications and software that log information about a user's online habits and report back to the software's creators. The effects of these programs range from unwanted pop-up ads and browser hijacking to more dangerous security breaches, which include the theft of personal information, keystroke logging, changing dialup ISP numbers to expensive toll numbers, and installing backdoors on a system that leave it open for hackers.

Spyware usually gets into the computer through banner ad-based software where the user is enticed to install the software for free. Other sources of spyware include instant messaging, various peer-to-peer applications, popular download managers, online gaming, many porn/crack sites, and more. Note that most, but not all, spyware is targeted exclusively at Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser. Users of modern Web browser alternatives, such as Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari, are generally not affected by spyware at all.

The most recent delivery methods used by malicious spyware require no permission or interaction with the users at all. Dubbed as "drive-by downloads", the spyware application is delivered to the user without his knowledge simply when he visits a particular website, opens some zipped files, or clicks on a malicious pop-up ad that contains some active content such as ActiveX, Java Applets, and so on. Spyware can also be hidden in image files or in some cases has been shipped along with the drivers that come with a new hardware device.

Spying techniques

Depending upon the nature of the information gathered, each piece of spyware may function differently. Some spyware applications simply gather information about a user's surfing habits, purely for marketing purposes, while others are far more malicious. In any case, the spyware attempts to uniquely identify the information sent across a network by using a unique identifier, such as a cookie on the user's hard disk or a Globally Unique Identifier (GUID). The spyware then sends the logs directly to a remote user or sever that is collecting this information. The collected information typically includes the infected user's hostname, IP address, and GUID, along with various login names, passwords and other keystrokes.


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