Spyware and Adware: What Is It?

Programs can be adware, spyware or both. Some programs that are technically adware, spyware or both are really harmless. So how do you know?
Published: Mar 23, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

Programs can be adware, spyware or both. Some programs that are technically adware, spyware or both are really harmless. So how do you know?

The Spyware Doctor glossary defines Adware as:

Typically, adware components install alongside a shareware or freeware application and bring targeted advertisements to your computer. These advertisements create revenue for the software developer. Adware displays web-based advertisements through pop-up windows or through annoying advertising banners.

So how malicious is adware? Well, to some extent the degree of badness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But if you�ve ever entered a porn site (let�s say by mistake) and tried to click the �X� in the upper right corner to close the window, only to see the task bar rapidly fill with seemingly endless windows which all turn out to be more porn ads which keep replicating, you understand why most users find that really irritating. Or an ad that fills the screen and doesn�t show an �X� to close it, so you end up rebooting the PC. In both these situations, the adware company has taken control of your computer, and that is malicious. How much harm it does depends partly on what you have to do to get rid of this stuff. If you can�t find normal uninstallers, or they don�t work, or they wind up loading more ads on your computer, you�ll call this software malicious. But compared to spyware, its fairly mild.

The Spyware Doctor glossary defines Spyware as:

A stealthy application that makes use of your Internet connection, gathering and transmitting information on various activities you conduct on your computer to third-parties. This information is often collected and sent without your knowledge or consent.

Like adware, spyware often installs as a third-party component bundled with a freeware or shareware application, which can make the distinction between the two somewhat ambiguous. In some places on the Internet, you may also see 'Spyware' used as a generic term to encompass malware.Users gets confused about the difference between spyware and Trojans, and so they should because some Trojans are spyware, although not all. Some Trojans are simply destructive and send nothing to a remote server. Rather than get bogged down by the details of why some Trojans are also spyware, lets simply accept that and look at another category of spyware which is commonly used and is easily recognized as malicious, namely keyboard loggers.

Keyboard loggers also known as keyloggers may simply make unseen logs of everything you entered into the keyboard, such as your bank account number and password, but the more recent versions may also snoop on your emails, messenger chats, take screen shot samples and basically record everything you do. You just have to read news articles like these to find that keyloggers are being used to commit serious financial crimes:

Police Foil $420 Million Keylogger Scam

Handing Thieves the Keys

All of the Above

Sure enough, as if these two categories weren�t bad enough there are some programs that do both. We haven�t found any keyboard loggers that pop ads so far, but we have caught plenty of adware programs that trace where you go while browsing the internet, presumably so they can be more selective with the ads they pop on their next round. And in order to make sure those ads go to the right place, they collect enough information to be certain it�s really you logged in, rather than some other user of your PC. So that might not include your bank account and password, but it probably does include some information you might not be comfortable with.The reason people buy Spyware Doctor, or similar programs, is to keep programs like these from stealing control of your computer from you. Ofected, to remove enough or even all traces of these programs to give you back control, and maybe some confidence.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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