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Spyware FAQ (frequently asked questions)

Spyware can enter your computer in a number of ways, and perform a wide range of unpleasant operations.  The Consumer Software Working Group has compiled a comprehensive list of what they consider to be the most deceptive and objectionable examples of known spyware.  (Click here to download the complete list.) Below, you will find some of their examples, with additional explanation provided by GetNetWise.

How does spyware get on my computer in the first place?

  • Example: A computer user sees an Internet advertisement for "SomeProgram."  She clicks on the ad and is sent to a page that pops up a window asking if she wants to download "SomeProgram."  The user clicks "no," but "SomeProgram" is surreptitiously downloaded and installed anyway.
  • Example: In this case, a computer user sees an ad for "AnotherProgram," and clicks on it.  She is sent to a page that immediately pops up a window asking if she wants to download "AnotherProgram."  The user clicks "no." An identical window pops up as soon as she declines, however, and repeats until the user gets frustrated and clicks "yes."

What are some examples of the worst spyware functions?

  • Example: In this common case, a computer user goes to a Web page, "www.acompany.com."  The page then opens another page running a java script.  When the user closes "www.acompany.com," the java script remains and covertly resets the user's home page.  The java script is written such that any time the user attempts to reset his home page, the program automatically resets it again so the user cannot reset his home page to what it was before the hijacking took place.
  • Example: Here, a computer user downloads a software package, Footloose 3.1, that will allow her to share files over the Internet using a peer-to-peer sharing site.  Among the programs in the software package is a hidden dialer application, "GreatCharges.exe," that was not mentioned in any advertisements, software licenses, or consumer notices associated with the package.  The dialer application is not an integral part of the file-sharing software package, but is included anyway.  (This tactic is sometimes referred to as bundling.) When the user opens her Web browser after installation of software package, the dialer opens in a hidden window, turns off the sound of the user's computer, and calls a phone number without her permission.  The charges for the calls made by the hidden dialer appear on the user's phone bill at the end of the month.

Why can't I get rid of the spyware once I've found it?

  • Example: In this example, a computer user has downloaded "New Game: Return to Hades" from the Internet, but now wants to remove the game program from the computer because he fears it might be spyware.  "New Game" does not have an uninstall program or instructions and does not show up in the standard feature in the user's operating system that removes unwanted programs (assuming this feature exists in the operating system).  The user's attempts to otherwise delete it are met by confusing prompts from "New Game" with misrepresentative statements that deleting the program will make all future operations unstable.
  • Example: Here, a computer user has downloaded Program 2.0.  He thought it would be a helpful program, but it has turned out to be spyware.  Now he wants to remove Program 2.0 from the computer.  Program 2.0 appears in the standard feature in the user's operating system that removes unwanted programs, but when he utilizes the "remove" option, a component of Program 2.0 remains behind.  The next time the user connects to the Internet, this component re-downloads the remainder of Program 2.0 and reinstalls it.

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Last modified: May 19, 2011