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Protect Yourself From Spyware Snoops!

Just when you thought you were Web savvy, one more privacy, security, and usability issue springs up--spyware. Spyware is the techno-version of a Peeping Tom. Installed on your computer without your consent, spyware software monitors or controls your computer use. It may be used to send you pop-up ads, redirect your computer to specific websites, monitor your Internet surfing, or record your key strokes, which, in turn could lead to identity theft and misuse of your private information--such as credit card numbers. Why do so many computer users allow spyware snoops to monitor them online? The answer is very simple. They may not even know they are being watched.

Your best protection against this particular privacy invasion is to learn about this hideous misuse of the Internet and act accordingly, using software that is readily available and very inexpensive--even free in many cases.

"Spyware is a technological disease that is proliferating each day. It threatens the efficiency of our computers and Internet services as well as the security of our personal information and private transactions, " said Congresswoman Mary Bono (R-CA) when explaining her introduction of H.R. 2929 in April, 2004. "The Safeguard Against Privacy Invasion Act" (SPI Act) works to protect individuals and companies from unknowingly downloading spyware by requiring that "consumers receive a clear and conspicuous notice prior to downloading spyware."

Many experienced Web users have already learned how to recognize spyware, avoid it, and delete it. According to officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), all computer users should "get wise to the signs that spyware has been installed on their machines, and then take appropriate steps to delete it."

Clues that spyware is on a computer include: a barrage of pop-up ads, being redirected to unwanted websites, a sudden or repeated change in your computer's Internet home page, new and unexpected tool bars, new and unexpected icons at the bottom of your computer screen, keys that do not work (for example, the "Tab" key that does not work when you try to move to the next field), random error messages, and sluggish or exceedingly slow performance when opening programs or saving files.

The good news is that computer users can prevent spyware installation, readily detect that which is already installed, and easily delete it from that system. Experts from the FTC and across the technology industry offer these suggestions: update your operating system and Web browser software; download free software only from sites you know and trust; do not install any software without knowing EXACTLY what it is; minimize "drive-by" downloads; don't click on any links within pop-up windows; and install a dependable personal firewall to stop uninvited guests from accessing your computer.

If you think your computer may have spyware on it, experts advise that you take three steps. First, get an anti-spyware program from a vendor you know and trust. Next, set it to scan on a regular basis--at least once a week--or perhaps even once a day. Finally, delete any software programs the anti-spyware detects.

A specific type of Spyware is referred to as "Adware"--advertising supported software. Like Spyware, Adware will usually install components on your computer that will send marketing information whenever you are online. Unlike Spyware, however, Adware contains a disclosure telling you that they will be using your information. It is VERY important to read the privacy policy when downloading Adware.

Run a systems check on your computer, use common sense when downloading from unknown Internet sites and invest in some reliable Spyware blocker software. Best wishes for safe surfing!

Author Info:

Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently V.P. of Elfin Enterprises, Inc., an Internet business providing useful and valuable information on a variety of timely topics. For a computer room full of information, resources and advice about spyware, visit http://www.SpywareDesk.com

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