Spyware tattles on your Internet travels - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Spyware tattles on your Internet travels

October 12, 2004

By Chris Clackum

The Federal Trade Commission is taking aim at another Internet predator - spyware. The FTC says it can't be seen but certainly felt when hackers, posing as legitimate companies, secretly invade home computers and steal personal information.

Federal regulators are going after software companies that claim to protect your computer from spies when, in fact, they're spying themselves.

"No one should be pestered and spied on by people who illegally hijack their computers,” said Lydia Parnes of the Federal Trade Commission. In this case, the FTC wants to shut down a New Hampshire company, Seismic Entertainment Productions, for allegedly using spyware to create a steady stream of pop-up ads,  then offering a pricey way to get rid of them.

"The defendants were selling software to fix problems they just caused," said Parnes.

Like its evil Internet cousins spam, worms and viruses, Spyware has found its way onto PC's nationwide. By opening innocent looking e-mails or one of those incessant pop-up ads, spy software can secretly snake through personal computers, even track where someone goes on the internet-- sending the info back to the e-mailer or ad-sponsor.

They can record everything you do on your computer. The FTC says some companies go so far as to offer anti-spyware programs, but have the spying capabilities secretly installed in their software. A few recommendations the FTC has to avoid spyware:

1. Update your operating system and web browser software. Your operating system (like windows or Linux) may offer free software "patches" to close holes in the system that spyware could exploit.

2. Download free software only from sites you know and trust. It can be appealing to download free software like games, peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, customized toolbars, or other programs that may change or customize the functioning of your computer. Be aware, however, that some of these free software applications bundle other software, including spyware.

3. Don't install any software without knowing exactly what it is. Take the time to read the end-user license agreement (EULA) before downloading any software. If the EULA is hard to find - or difficult to understand - think twice about installing the software.

4. Minimize "drive-by" downloads. Make sure your browser security setting is high enough to detect unauthorized downloads, for example, at least the "medium" setting for Internet explorer. Keep your browser updated.

5. Don't click on any links within pop-up windows. If you do, you may install spyware on your computer. Instead, close pop-up windows by clicking on the "x" icon in the title bar.

6. Don't click on links in spam that claim to offer anti-spyware software. Some software offered in spam actually installs spyware.

7. Install a personal firewall to stop uninvited users from accessing your computer. A firewall blocks unauthorized access to your computer and will alert you if spyware already on your computer is sending information out.

8. If you think your computer might have spyware on it, experts advise that you take three steps: get an anti-spyware program from a vendor you know and trust. Set it to scan on a regular basis - at least once a week - and every time you start your computer, if possible. And delete any software programs the anti-spyware program detects that you don't want on your computer.

For more information about protecting your computer and your personal information online, visit www.ftc.gov/infosecurity

posted at 4:55PM by dave.miller@walb.com