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I can see you

Right now, there’s probably at least one piece of spyware on your computer, hidden but certainly not inactive. Here’s one way to get rid of the nasty buggers. Or, alternately, spy on someone else.

Have you ever downloaded a hot new shareware title only to realize later that, upon installation, the program also installed software to spy on you? It sounds positively Draconian, but it’s true. In fact, you probably have at least one piece of spyware on your computer right now.

And what, exactly, is spyware? Spyware is slang for advertising-supported software, sometimes also referred to as adware. Using banner ads within the software (such as in WeatherBug, a popular desktop weather forecasting program), the authors gain revenue from companies willing to pay for the exposure, and thus are able to offer their program for free. This way, you don’t have to pay for the software but the author still gets paid. And if you don’t want to look at the ads, there is usually an option to pay a licensing fee to remove them.

While this probably sounds good so far, the downside is that some of the advertising companies may also install additional tracking software on your PC–software that’s continually reporting in to the company on your surfing habits. And while, according to most companies, the data collected from your system remains anonymous, the fact is, not all companies are quite so scrupulous. Add that to the fact that you have a live server transmitting from your PC and taking up valuable bandwidth and slowing down your system and you can see why many people have a problem with spyware.

Sweeping for spies

Fortunately several companies have released software that will, when run, search out and destroy any and all spyware currently residing on your system. One such program is Webroot’s Spy Sweeper, which automatically detects and can remove all common forms of spyware, including Trojans, adware, system monitors, and keyloggers. (The latter two can seriously compromise your privacy by recording everything you do on your PC and would usually have to be installed in person by someone who has access to your computer.)

Spy Sweeper has a continually updated database that it checks against each time it’s run. If it finds spyware on your system, it will report it and give you the option of disabling or deleting the offending program in question. Moreover, once it finds a particular transmitter, it will forever prevent the spyware from being installed on your system again. The program is extremely easy to use and requires very little if any thought once installed; the program runs in the background and will only make itself known when and if it detects spyware. Spy Sweeper will also protect your surfing sessions and ensure that you’re able to browse Web sites without having to worry about online spyware and advertising cookies.

Spy Sweeper costs $30. A free version that scans for but doesn’t delete spyware is also available from the Web site.

I spy

Spying software isn’t always bad–particularly if you’re an employer suspicious of your employees wasting company time, a wife convinced that her husband is carrying on with an online cyber vixen, or a father who’s afraid that his son is downloading illegal music files. Enter 007 Spy Software, a program that does exactly what Spy Sweeper tries to prevent.

007 Spy Software allows you to secretly monitor and record all activity on your Windows PC and automatically delivers logs of the recorded information to you via e-mail or FTP at set intervals. The program records Web sites visited, e-mails sent, programs used, online conversations (including instant messenger programs such as Yahoo and ICQ), and more.

The software also records every keystroke entered on the PC, including username and password, and takes screen snapshots of the screen every few seconds. If you truly need to find out what’s going on when you’re away from your PC–or when you’re not watching your employees–this program will do the deed and then some.

Easy to install and use, the software costs $40 for a single PC license or $600 for a site-wide license. Be warned, though–when spying, you may not always like what you find out.

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