IRT Tech Tip Tuesday: Spyware

IRT Tech Tip Tuesday: Spyware

In IRT’s continuing series of tips addressing Web-based resources this week’s tip explores Spyware. The following tip includes a definition of Spyware and ways to help avoid it.

The term spyware refers to a broad category of malicious software designed to intercept or take partial control of a computer 's operation without the informed consent of that machine's owner or legitimate user. While the term taken literally suggests software that surreptitiously monitors the user, it has come to refer more broadly to software that subverts the computer's operation for the benefit of a third party.

Spyware differs from viruses and worms in that it usually does not self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, however, spyware – by design – exploits infected computers for commercial gain. Typical tactics furthering this goal include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements; theft of personal information (including financial information such as credit card numbers); monitoring of Web-browsing activity for marketing purposes; or routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites.

As of 2005, spyware has become one of the pre-eminent security threats to computer-systems running Microsoft Windows operating-systems (and especially to users of Internet Explorer because it is built into the Windows OS). Some malware on the Linux and Mac OS X platforms have behavior similar to Windows spyware, but to date has not become anywhere near as widespread. – provided by

The best defense against spyware is to not install anything on your computer unless you are confident of the source. Here are a few rules to follow are:

  1. Be suspicious of "free" software.
  2. Avoid Questionable ActiveX Components. Many spyware applications attempt to install ActiveX components on your computer. There is nothing inherently "bad" about ActiveX controls. Many legitimate programs such as virus scanners, Windows Update, and many online educational programs use ActiveX technology. But ActiveX components installed by spyware programs can seriously harm your computer's functionality.
  3. Avoid visiting certain types of sites. Some kinds of sites are especially popular with spyware publishers and especially likely to try to install spyware on your computer. In general, you should be suspicious of any site offering anything "free;" but you should be especially suspicious of sites offering the following kinds of content – most of which are considered unacceptable use of UST computing resources:
    • Pornography of any kind (unacceptable use of computing resources)
    • "Warez" (illegally cracked or pirated software) or unrealistically low-priced software (unacceptable use of computing resources)
    • Free games, graphics, smileys or screen savers
    • Free music, music lyrics, or sheet music
    • Free online diaries
    • Peer-to-peer file sharing programs – provided by

Generally it is best to be cautious when you are using the Internet. Pay careful attention to Web sites where you enter your personal and/or financial information. Use Web sites that encrypt their data using a secure socket layer (SSL) connection. Look for one or more of these ‘secure connection’ indicators on your browser:

  • A security alert window tells you that you are about to use a secure connection. Some browsers let you choose whether to display this window.
  • An SSL icon shows when you're in a secure connection.
  • A symbol of an open padlock changes to a closed padlock when you're in a secure connection, (located on the status bar on the right side of the screen).

  • The Web site's address changes to one that begins with ‘https’ (check for the ‘s’).

While this isn’t fail proof it does add a level of security.

If you have questions about safeguarding your computer or have any technology questions, please contact the IRT Tech desk, (651) 962.6230.