Adware, Spyware and
Monitoring Software-–What's What?
By Alexandra Gamanenko
Everybody seems to have heard about spyware now. Media
publish loads of surveys, "how to"s, and horror stories
about the victims. Readers are supposed to know exactly
what terms like "spyware", "adware", "malware" mean.
Alas, their meanings may vary from article to article,
from author to author-- some of them still use these
It is not correct. Being an employee of an anti-spyware
developing company, I guess I know this matter well
enough to point that out.
The spyware problem is
much broader and more complex than we think it to be; it
isn't all about unwanted advertising, pop-ups, etc.,
etc. It isn't all about privacy, either. Adware by no
means equals spyware. One needn't be a genius to suspect
it. Adware is more annoying than really dangerous --
though it slows down PCs and drives people crazy.
Programs used for targeted advertising, such as adware
or cookies, make only a tiny part of existing programs
which are usually called spyware, and the purposes they
for are the most innocuous, I should say.
In my opinion, these programs should better be called
"trackware" or something like that -- they keep track of
PC users' activities (to target advertising better) but
not actually spy. You disagree? Well, your browsing
things you buy online--all this stuff certainly is your
private business. If somebody else uses this info to
bombard you with ads, you get angry. You are quite
right. One more question: what private info you value
more--your browsing habits or your credit card number?
Social security numbers, credit card numbers, your bank
accounts, passwords, another valuable (in the direct
sense) data--can easily be stolen by means of software
programs specially created for stealing data. That's
what I usually mean when talking about "spyware." These
log every your keystroke or mouse click, make
screenshots, compile a neat log-file and send it to the
person who installed the program (as a rule, remotely)
on your PC.
Compared with keyloggers, adware seems pretty innocent,
doesn't it? Even hijacking a browser looks like petty
offence. To visualize difference between adware stuff
and keylogging spyware just compare a juvenile
delinquent and, say, a terrorist.
In view of that, software products which make possible
unwanted advertising are rather distant relatives of
real spyware. Cousins, so to speak. Second cousins twice
removed, to be more precise. What about brothers and
Spyware has very much in common with monitoring software
-- legitimate software products widely used for parental
control, workplace surveillance, Internet access
control, etc. They pretty often are based on the same
technology. They are so similar, that a spy program can
sometimes be used for monitoring purposes, and vice
versa. So, what is the difference, if there is any?
There is a vague line between monitoring products and
spy products -- this is the line between security
management and security violation. However, there are
two specific program functions that are typical to spy
First, it is possible to carry out preliminary
configuration of the monitoring module (it is usually
called client, agent etc.), getting a compiled
executable file as a result. This file, when installed,
doesn't display any messages or create windows on the
screen. It "hides itself" and "shows no signs of life".
It is impossible to notice whether the particular PC is
being secretly monitored or not. Of course, the user is
not aware of being spied -- until the consequences show
Second, spy software always has built-in means of remote
installation; as a rule, the pre-configured module
(agent) is installed into the target PC remotely. Then
the files with obtained information are sent via local
network or emailed to the person who installed the spy
Last, but not least-- spyware is always used illicitly
and behind the user's back-- here monitoring is
performed by a person who has no right for it. Unlike
spyware, legally used monitoring programs are almost
never used secretly. Though in many states your boss
doesn't break any law when he installs monitoring
devices or software without your consent and never tells
you about it, it happens not very often. As a rule,
people at work are aware of being under surveillance.
Managers are very likely to tell a new employee that
there are things that he or she had better not do --
because there are means of finding that out. Kids know
what websites they had better not visit--for the same
reason. Remove these functions -- and you will get a
monitoring program instead of spyware. If it is
impossible to pre-configure the monitoring module and
install it remotely; if you should have administrator
privilege to install the program, it is monitoring
software, not spyware.
Though the basic principle is often the same, purposes
differ greatly. Monitoring software is most frequently
used in large and middle-sized companies to ensure
information security and local network accountability.
At home more and more parents install it as a "life
jacket" for their web-surfing kids. You probably use
such a program already, or going to. Use it, but
remember about the illegitimate relative of so useful
and absolutely legal monitoring program installed on
your own PC.
Alexandra Gamanenko works as a PR manager at the Raytown
Corporation, LLC--monitoring and anti-monitoring
software developing company.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/