Skip to comments.Earthlink: Your hard drive may be spying on you
Posted on 10/14/2003 1:07:51 PM PDT by ex-Texan
Earthlink: Your hard drive may be spying on you
EarthLink has a word for all of you spam-hating, pop-up-blasting, virus-fearing brethren -- spyware.
And you should be scared, computer users, real scared.
Experts say as many as 90 percent of all Internet surfers have picked up one brand or another of this soaring spyware, also known as scumware, skunkware and malware.
That proportion seems awfully high, but at least a large majority of Internet-connected computer users harbor one or another of the thousands of spyware varieties.
EarthLink has more than a passing interest. Last Wednesday, it added to its Internet software a program called Spyware Blocker that the ISP says is the first anti-spyware software ever offered by an Internet service. Its inclusion underscores three things:
That the threat of secret software that embeds itself on your hard drive is growing so greatly that experts have variously said its expansion rate could surpass the growth of viruses or spam.
That many computer users have yet to notice the problem. Spyware is programming code that does everything from feed you ad after ad to record your surfing habits. It can change the Web page to which you're headed and log your every keystroke.
The latter kind reports back to an Internet source such private information as your e-mail messages and credit-card numbers. EarthLink's Spyware Blocker works against 1,500 varieties of scumware and continues to update the numbers as new ones are located.
That while EarthLink has been on the front lines of blocking annoying and alarming threats to Internet privacy and security, it is not alone. Competitors like America Online have also developed security packages, albeit without antispyware measures.
EarthLink started offering protective software in spring 2002, first with pop-up blockers, next anti-spam and last month offering parental control of offensive materials and now spam blocking. By year's end, it expects to include a virus blocker.
Spyware is damaging, in part, because it is a largely silent plague. Now it is starting to get the serious and mass attention it so richly deserves.
''Since spyware is the next big threat, it was a logical and obvious thing for us to include,'' said Matt Cobb, vice president of product management for EarthLink.
He sees a greater drive to spook than to spin viruses.
''People who make viruses are malicious,'' he said. ``The people who do spyware are economically motivated, so we think it's going to become more like spam than viruses and surpass the number of virus attacks.''
Spyware can ensnare you in several ways. If you've ever downloaded freeware or shareware, particularly programs that provide such Internet services as music swapping, form fillers, download managers and other utilities, there's a good chance such programs offset their costs by letting one or several ad makers piggyback.
They can swarm your desktop with pop-ups, floating cubes and even more intricate display methods. One spyware program reportedly posted what looked like error messages to download software.
E-mail can also come infected with Trojan horses that steal information off your disk or follow your surfing habits. One company was caught planting spyware in the guise of electronic greeting cards.
If your Internet Explorer browser is set to automatically allow the download of software needed for such things as the proper viewing of Web pages, spyware can also slime you.
Look under IE's Tools menu>Internet Options>Security>Downloads, and disable file downloading. Re-enable it only when you choose to download software.
If you don't have EarthLink, there are plenty of sites with free or low-cost programs that will scan for spyware and allow you to quarantine or delete it.
One such site is www.spy checker.com. Look for information also at www.cexxorg/adware.htm and www.doxdesk.com/para site.
A word of caution: Some programs will stop running when the spyware element is removed. You'll have to decide which is the greater evil, giving up privacy to run a program or stopping the program to secure privacy.
She would be in sooo much danger!
I haven't been a subscriber for years and there is residual and unremovable Earthlink programming on my computer.
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