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Spyware vs. Adware

Over the last few years, the internet has become known as the ultimate source of information, often referred to as a virtual library.  With that followed a negative reputation that has struck fear in the hearts of several new and potential web surfers.  Widespread coverage of negative activity online has many referring to the internet as an unforsaken land where malicious crimes are a regular occurrence.  Although some of the hype is an exaggeration inspired by the media, most of it is fact.   

The massive threat of scams and computer viruses have been a major contributor to the negative theory regarding the internet.  In fact, any machine that makes a frequent online connection is susceptible to infection if the proper security is not implemented.   One threat that is sure to make an attempt at intruding your system everyday is a program by the name of spyware.    Though it may be contracted via email, spyware is mostly downloaded in conjunction with a legitimate file or from a website compromised with malware. 

The Difference Between Adware and Spyware

Often identified as its own parent category, adware is essentially a form of spyware; both are members of the malware family which also consists of worms, Trojans and viruses.  In general, adware refers to any program that frequently displays advertisements, with or without the user's consent.  Applications such as the Eudora email client often display advertisements to compensate for shareware fees.  This application can be classified as adware in the sense that it is an advertising-supported program, yet it is not referred to as spyware.  In this form, adware does not function surreptitiously or mislead a user.  Instead it provides the user with a particular service. 

The justification behind adware is that it helps to recover cost for programming development and reduces costs for the user as well, enabling a program to be distributed for free.  However, in most cases, adware functions as a malicious piece of spyware deployed with harmful intent.  It has the ability to collect a user's personal information and return it to the coder or third-party sources without the victim's consent or knowledge.  In order for such an operation to be lawfully employed, a complete and legitimate disclosure of consent must be proceeded by the silent background use of an internet back channel.  Any program communicating from the internet not following this protocol is guilty of data theft and is rightfully termed as spyware.    

An adware program will use spyware technology to display advertisements based on the patterns of your activity; information it obtains from spying on you.  A popular example of this type of infection is Gator Software by Claria Corporation.  This program is often secretly installed as you surf the web, directing revenue to the website hosting it as well as Claria Corporation.

Prevention and Removal

Most types of spyware are easily installed due to vulnerabilities in the Internet Explorer web browser.  Other Microsoft technologies such as Active X will download adware and many other infections directly from the browser to your computer.  For this reason, Mozilla Firefox, a Google product, is recommended by security experts. 

Typically, ridding your system of adware is as easy as deleting it from the "Add/Remove Programs" utility on your computer.  However, a malicious type of adware may be more difficult to delete.  In this case, a security application that specializes in detecting and removing spyware is the best option.                                 

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In 2003, more than 10 million Americans fell victim to identity theft.

Identity theft costs business and individuals $53 billion dollars annually

In 2003, Americans spent 300 million hours resolving issues related to identity theft.

70% of all identity theft cases are perpetrated by a co-worker or employee of an affiliated business.