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 terms interchangeably.
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 are used
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 programs spy--they
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 sisters?
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 programs.
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 up.
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 program.
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,
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/