Majority of Home Computers Infected with Spyware

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Majority of Home Computers Infected with Spyware

Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise, the Internet is not a safe place to take your computer systems without adequate protection. It wasn’t too long ago that anti-virus and firewall software could provide your systems with more than enough security to safely cruise the Internet. Unfortunately, the Internet has become a haven for far too many unscrupulous companies and individuals who actively engage in developing and then enticing you to place software on your computers purposefully designed to invade your privacy in ways that cannot be described as anything but sinister.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a not-for-profit, public-private partnership focused on driving awareness and promoting education of cyber security, and NCSA member America Online, Inc., today released the results of one of the largest and most comprehensive in-home studies ever conducted on the security of computer users.

The AOL/NCSA Online Safety Study found that most computer users think they are safe but lack basic protections against viruses, spyware, hackers, and other online threats. In addition, large majorities of home computer users have been infected with viruses and spyware and remain highly vulnerable to future infections. Yet at the same time, most keep sensitive personal and financial information on their computers.

The AOL/NCSA study showed that –

* 80% of Home Computers Infected with Spyware/Adware

* 49% of Broadband Users Lack Any Firewall Protection

* The average infected user has 93 spyware/adware components on their computer, and the most components found on a single computer during the scan was 1,059.

* Majority of users (89%) who were infected with spyware/adware said they didn’t know the programs were on their computer.

* Nine in ten infected users (90%) said they don’t know what the programs are or do.

Those waters are shark infested…

There is no better way to state this; to venture onto the Internet without adequate spyware and adware protection these days effectively signs away your privacy to snoops you wouldn’t invite into your homes. But, these software eavesdroppers are able to harvest frightening amounts of personal data from your computers.

People must be vigilant, now more than ever before, to protect their systems from spyware/adware that effectively monitors their online activities and dutifully reports the desired information back to its developers. Information that can be and frequently is broadcast back to a spyware/adware developer’s site can include but is not necessarily limited to:

* Your computer’s address (IP – Internet Protocol)

* Your operating system (Windows XP, 2000, ME, Mac OS, Linux, etc.)

* Other information specific to your system (processor, memory, etc.)

* Type of Internet browser you utilize (Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, Firefox, etc.)

* Site addresses (URL’s) for web pages you visit

Assume any intrusion to be a major security breach

The information above is used to develop an advertising profile and then serve annoying pop-ups on the “infected” systems. There is no better terminology to describe a system that has spyware lurking and operating within it. These intruders watch your buying habits, and if packed with a keystroke logger, a seemingly innocuous spyware/adware bundle can stealthily acquire:

* User names and passwords

* Instant message and chat logs

* Emails you’ve written

* Credit card information – Numbers, Expiration dates, Billing address, Shipping address

Some packages include the ability to take random screen shots as well and either beam the images back to the spyware’s architect periodically or patiently wait until you are connected to the Internet to do so. No matter when or how the information is transmitted from your system, these security breaches should not be taken lightly.

Obvious clues that your system is infected

Fortunately adware packages are not subtle once they have infected a system. If you install software that includes force-fed adware baggage, it won’t take long for you to notice you are being inundated with new pop-ups.

Spyware can be a little more subtle and harder to detect. One of the most obvious signs that your system has been recently infected with spyware is a sudden drop in Internet performance. Browser pages will take longer to load, or they may not load at all. Some spyware can cause the entire system to bog down or stop working entirely. Like viruses, some spyware can also disable your printer or cause your CD players to respond erratically.

Another obvious clue that your computer has been infected with a spyware package is an abrupt change of your preferred Internet browser’s home page. Spyware packages can reset your email signatures and display advertising content – even while you are offline!

Aggressive prevention

One of the best methods of protecting your system from spyware is to first become knowledgeable as to what type of software blatantly bundles spyware as part of their “freeware”. Peer-to-peer file sharing Kazaa is notorious for including a couple of adware packages.

“Spyware Nuker” sounds like it should be a good, safe program to load on your system, right? Wrong! It is known to be a false spyware remover. Some of the spyware packages are written to avoid detection, are difficult to uninstall, and frequently leave components installed in your system in order to continue to monitor your activities and then silently reinstall themselves.

The best spyware detection and removal software inoculates your computer to help prevent the various spyware packages from loading themselves into your operating system. The detection and removal software should be programmed to run automatically either late every evening, or at least once a week – depending on the amount of Internet usage and number and types of sites you visit. If your Internet voyages take you across sites that contain pornographic or hacker material, you better run the spyware detection software immediately following that visit. Assume you may be infected after you wander across the less-than-scrupulous sites.

Some of the best spyware detection and removal software is shareware. They include (in alphabetical order): Ad-aware, HijackThis, PestPatrol, Spybot – Search & Destroy, and SpySweeper. My best recommendation would be to download one of these products (my personal favorite is Spybot – Search & Destroy) from and consider paying for the product you consider to be most suitable for your needs.

There are countless other commercial products, but I have found the shareware products to be more than adequate. If you prefer to pay for a commercial product, there are packages frequently bundled with your favorite anti-virus software (McAfee, Norton, etc.). Even firewall software developer Zone Labs has spyware detection and removal software included in their ZoneAlarm Security Suite.

It is an ugly, ongoing war out there, and spyware is probably the source for most service calls dispatched these days. Don’t allow either your privacy or your personal information to become a casualty in this ongoing battle. It is imperative that all of today’s systems – your system especially – be equipped with spyware detection and removal software. Make certain you take the necessary steps to keep your operating system, virus, and spyware software up-to-date.

Jared Prescott is a published author, product reviewer, and General Manager for AAA Tech Net, Inc. He has bountiful experience providing network and hardware solutions and can be contacted at

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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  • …and switch to firefox after getting ready of all that spyware so you won’t get all the spyware you get with IE- NOTE: Firefox is not particulary more secure, but alot more obscure.

  • Johnnie B. Good

    I need loads of spam to feel wanted, can you help?

  • Firefox ( is in fact more secure, it is not part of the operating system and it lacks of ActiveX. Of course is not invulnerable, but if it is hijacked (which have never happened in my case maybe because I also use Fedora Linux) at least you can erase it completely.

  • While I am a computer consultant who has done a fair share of disinfecting quite a few system that showed signs of spyware/adware, I am starting to be very concerned about the repetitive nature of the literally hundreds of articles I have read on this subject over the past 3 months or so. My livelyhood depends in part on cleaning malware off of my clients’ computers so I would like to see that what I am doing is a good and necessary service. Unfortunately though, I am getting more and more concerned that we may be seeing a case of the classic fable known as “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. (See web site for the story in case you are not familiar with it.) I will be the first to admit that malware can and does slow down and in some cases incapacitates some PCs. But, and this is where I get concerned, what real evidence has been produced that the malware is quite as bad and dangerous as it sounds like it is?

    There needs to be a distinction made between the possibility of something happening and the probability of it actually happening. Just because something is possible doesn’t necessarily make it probably. Say for example that it is possible for a burglar to break into your house tonight. Does that necessarily make it is probably that one will rob you tonight? No, there is usually a vast difference between the possibility and the probability of something happening.

    While it is possible for malware to do significant damage including identity theft, where are the studies that show actual damage has occurred in X% of the cases? Using scare tactics to sell malware detection and removal services is unethical. I would like to see some reputable organizations produce some comprehensive data on the actual danger of malware. It should not just spout percentages of systems that have malware detected or number of malware programs or traces detected but rather show some statistical data showing the actual danger to PC users in the way of how much of this stuff ends up actually damaging the user versus how much of it is just an annoyance.

    This whole area is still too new to have matured in the reporting on it but let’s not all just follow in lockstep like all the emperor’s people and parrot what everybody else is saying just because everybody else is saying it and we don’t want to appear like we are the only one who might see things differently.

    Malware is a danger but we need to be careful to understand just how much or how little a danger it really is.

  • Say for example that it is possible for a burglar to break into your house tonight. Does that necessarily make it is probably that one will rob you tonight? No, there is usually a vast difference between the possibility and the probability of something happening.
    What your question should have been is: “If it is possible for someone to break into my house will that event happen eventualy?”. And the answer is most obvious: *YES!*.

    While it is possible for malware to do significant damage including identity theft, where are the studies that show actual damage has occurred in X% of the cases? Using scare tactics to sell malware detection and removal services is unethical. I would like to see some reputable organizations produce some comprehensive data on the actual danger of malware.

    As said in the acticle, there are free spy removal tools! Of cource they do accept donations… but, hey, probably those donations can hardly keep the project going … I don’t think they actualy allow much room for scare tactics marketing campains. And on the, reputable organizations doing research, subject… you can bet your job that Microsoft (who after all is the one to blame for all the ichy things lurking on your harddrive) did a lot of market research before taking the course of a more secure operating system (think win2k3, XP service pack 2, bundled firewall, a soon to come (probably)bundled anti-virus…). But there’ nothing to worry yet for people like you… you’ll still have a job for a few years from now: .

  • I’m pleasantly surprised with some of the response and exposure this article has received on the SearchEngineJournal.

    I’ve received requests from representatives of WeatherBug and DivX that a retraction be posted. Where DivX is concerned, Thomas Hungtington, Corporate Communications Manager wrote, “No version of DivX software has contained any adware product since July of this year with the release of the DivX 5.2 product suite. Early versions of DivX software did include an optional adware bundle, but that is no longer the case.” I applaud DivX’s committment to exclude adware from future releases of their software.

    Pete Celano of WeatherBug wrote, “WeatherBug is not spyware nor adware, and distributes neither,” and requested a retraction be posted. We epxlained to Mr. Celano that the statement in the article was based on research conducted while developing the article, and on first-hand experience working with systems loaded with the WeatherBug.

    The MySearch toolbar is bundled with the WeatherBug Browser Companion. While WeatherBug in and of itself may not be adware, packaging the WeatherBug Browser Companion with the MySearch Toolbar would seem to make it so. Do a Google search on “mysearch” and consider the results. It doesn’t strike me as a “friendly” product to have on your computer systems. Take away the “MySearch” bundle and WeatherBug loses some of its bad rap.

  • Spyware has been serious problem already quite while and I have been “fixin” friends and other people computers because of that, so I am not slightest surprised that most computers have some.