I’m scared of Spyware

On Sunday I went to my mother’s for a chance to get new sneakers (tax-free!) and to help out with the computer situation there. My brother is headed to college in a week which means that my mother will be alone with two Windows computers in the house.

One of my main concerns, which I refuse to get paranoid about, is her online security. I love my mother so she’ll understand when I say this, but it would be more effective to try to teach a chicken to fly than to try to teach her about staying secure online. Phishing scams, viruses in email attachments, and spyware are all things that pose a threat, and even though she knows some good online safety ground-rules they are an ever present threat.

But the absolute worst of all of these by far is spyware, or malware, or scumware, or whatever you want to call it. Even I’m scared of it, and I like to consider myself somewhat of a competent technophile. Case in point: when I came over I wanted to clean up some of my old files from my brother’s PC (which I had an account on), and so he asked me to help clean up the whole thing. I spent the next 4+ hours going through the computer and deleting various programs.

At first, I didn’t understand where all these programs came from. Things like AdDestroyer and VirtualBouncer, to name a few. When I asked my brother about them he said he didn’t recognize them but they had been popping up on his desktop at every system start-up. I grabbed AdAware 6.0 and ran a scan, and sure enough it found over 300 files, folders, and registry values and keys. I think I did a pretty good job of cleaning up that computer. I did the same thing just yesterday with my father’s old Windows 98 machine. It had been crashing every time he hit the shut-down button and running AdAware discovered more than 350 data miners and malware programs running on it. Removing them fixed all the crashing problems he was having.

Today, I ran across this entry from Tris Hussey who has had a similar experience as I have. And I must agree with him: SPYWARE MUST DIE! The very fact that someone may write a program that begins acting on its own on my property, on my computer, without my explicit permission is a problem and criminal. This is exactly why programs need to be activated by a user to run! I expect and demand that no program on my system run unless I have started it! Spyware does exactly the opposite. Grr.

Congress is getting involved against Spyware, which I think is a step in the right direction. But unless the technology industry itself grows up a little and begins behaving with some social maturity, I’m really scared for all of our privacy and security.