In some infections, the spyware is not even evident. Users assume in those situations that the performance issues relate to faulty hardware, Windows installation problems, or another malware infection. Some owners of badly infected systems resort to contacting technical support experts, or even buying a new computer because the existing system "has become too slow". Badly infected systems may require a clean reinstallation of all their software in order to return to full functionality. Some spyware disables or even removes competing spyware programs, on the grounds that more spyware-related annoyances increase the likelihood that users will take action to remove the programs.
Keyloggers are sometimes part of malware packages downloaded onto computers without the owners' knowledge. Some keylogger software is freely available on the internet, while others are commercial or private applications. Most keyloggers allow not only keyboard keystrokes to be captured, they also are often capable of collecting screen captures from the computer. A typical Windows user has administrative privileges , mostly for convenience. Because of this, any program the user runs has unrestricted access to the system. As with other operating systems , Windows users are able to follow the principle of least privilege and use non- administrator accounts.
Alternatively, they can reduce the privileges of specific vulnerable Internet-facing processes , such as Internet Explorer. Since Windows Vista is, by default, a computer administrator that runs everything under limited user privileges, when a program requires administrative privileges, a User Account Control pop-up will prompt the user to allow or deny the action.
This improves on the design used by previous versions of Windows. As the spyware threat has evolved, a number of techniques have emerged to counteract it. These include programs designed to remove or block spyware, as well as various user practices which reduce the chance of getting spyware on a system. Nonetheless, spyware remains a costly problem. When a large number of pieces of spyware have infected a Windows computer, the only remedy may involve backing up user data, and fully reinstalling the operating system. Many programmers and some commercial firms have released products dedicated to remove or block spyware.
In it was renamed Windows Defender. Major anti-virus firms such as Symantec , PC Tools , McAfee and Sophos have also added anti-spyware features to their existing anti-virus products. Early on, anti-virus firms expressed reluctance to add anti-spyware functions, citing lawsuits brought by spyware authors against the authors of web sites and programs which described their products as "spyware". However, recent versions of these major firms home and business anti-virus products do include anti-spyware functions, albeit treated differently from viruses.
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Symantec Anti-Virus, for instance, categorizes spyware programs as "extended threats" and now offers real-time protection against these threats. Such programs inspect the contents of the Windows registry , operating system files, and installed programs , and remove files and entries which match a list of known spyware. Real-time protection from spyware works identically to real-time anti-virus protection: the software scans disk files at download time, and blocks the activity of components known to represent spyware.
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In some cases, it may also intercept attempts to install start-up items or to modify browser settings. Earlier versions of anti-spyware programs focused chiefly on detection and removal. Javacool Software's SpywareBlaster , one of the first to offer real-time protection, blocked the installation of ActiveX -based spyware.
As new spyware programs are released, anti-spyware developers discover and evaluate them, adding to the list of known spyware, which allows the software to detect and remove new spyware. As a result, anti-spyware software is of limited usefulness without regular updates. Updates may be installed automatically or manually. A popular generic spyware removal tool used by those that requires a certain degree of expertise is HijackThis , which scans certain areas of the Windows OS where spyware often resides and presents a list with items to delete manually.
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If a spyware program is not blocked and manages to get itself installed, it may resist attempts to terminate or uninstall it. Some programs work in pairs: when an anti-spyware scanner or the user terminates one running process, the other one respawns the killed program.
Likewise, some spyware will detect attempts to remove registry keys and immediately add them again. Usually, booting the infected computer in safe mode allows an anti-spyware program a better chance of removing persistent spyware. Killing the process tree may also work. To detect spyware, computer users have found several practices useful in addition to installing anti-spyware programs. Though no browser is completely safe, Internet Explorer was once at a greater risk for spyware infection due to its large user base as well as vulnerabilities such as ActiveX but these three major browsers are now close to equivalent when it comes to security.
Some ISPs —particularly colleges and universities—have taken a different approach to blocking spyware: they use their network firewalls and web proxies to block access to Web sites known to install spyware. On March 31, , Cornell University 's Information Technology department released a report detailing the behavior of one particular piece of proxy-based spyware, Marketscore , and the steps the university took to intercept it.
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Individual users can also install firewalls from a variety of companies. These monitor the flow of information going to and from a networked computer and provide protection against spyware and malware. Some users install a large hosts file which prevents the user's computer from connecting to known spyware-related web addresses. Spyware may get installed via certain shareware programs offered for download.
Downloading programs only from reputable sources can provide some protection from this source of attack.
A few spyware vendors, notably Solutions , have written what the New York Times has dubbed " stealware ", and what spyware researcher Ben Edelman terms affiliate fraud , a form of click fraud. Stealware diverts the payment of affiliate marketing revenues from the legitimate affiliate to the spyware vendor. Spyware which attacks affiliate networks places the spyware operator's affiliate tag on the user's activity — replacing any other tag, if there is one. The spyware operator is the only party that gains from this. The user has their choices thwarted, a legitimate affiliate loses revenue, networks' reputations are injured, and vendors are harmed by having to pay out affiliate revenues to an "affiliate" who is not party to a contract.
As a result, spyware operators such as Solutions have been terminated from affiliate networks including LinkShare and ShareSale. In one case, spyware has been closely associated with identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that Some copy-protection technologies have borrowed from spyware. In , Sony BMG Music Entertainment was found to be using rootkits in its XCP digital rights management technology  Like spyware, not only was it difficult to detect and uninstall, it was so poorly written that most efforts to remove it could have rendered computers unable to function.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit,  and three separate class-action suits were filed. While the main purpose of this deliberately uninstallable application is to ensure the copy of Windows on the machine was lawfully purchased and installed, it also installs software that has been accused of " phoning home " on a daily basis, like spyware. Stalkerware is spyware that has been used to monitor electronic activities of partners in intimate relationships.
At least one software package, Loverspy, was specifically marketed for this purpose. Anti-spyware programs often report Web advertisers' HTTP cookies , the small text files that track browsing activity, as spyware. While they are not always inherently malicious, many users object to third parties using space on their personal computers for their business purposes, and many anti-spyware programs offer to remove them. These common spyware programs illustrate the diversity of behaviors found in these attacks. Note that as with computer viruses, researchers give names to spyware programs which may not be used by their creators.
Programs may be grouped into "families" based not on shared program code, but on common behaviors, or by "following the money" of apparent financial or business connections. For instance, a number of the spyware programs distributed by Claria are collectively known as "Gator". Likewise, programs that are frequently installed together may be described as parts of the same spyware package, even if they function separately. The first recorded use of the term spyware occurred on October 16, in a Usenet post that poked fun at Microsoft 's business model.
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According to a study by AOL and the National Cyber-Security Alliance, 61 percent of surveyed users' computers were infected with form of spyware. Computers on which Internet Explorer IE is the primary browser are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, not only because IE is the most widely used,  but because its tight integration with Windows allows spyware access to crucial parts of the operating system. Before Internet Explorer 6 SP2 was released as part of Windows XP Service Pack 2 , the browser would automatically display an installation window for any ActiveX component that a website wanted to install.
Spyware can exploit this design to circumvent attempts at removal. The spyware typically will link itself from each location in the registry that allows execution. Once running, the spyware will periodically check if any of these links are removed. If so, they will be automatically restored. This ensures that the spyware will execute when the operating system is booted, even if some or most of the registry links are removed.
Malicious programmers have released a large number of rogue fake anti-spyware programs, and widely distributed Web banner ads can warn users that their computers have been infected with spyware, directing them to purchase programs which do not actually remove spyware—or else, may add more spyware of their own. The recent [update] proliferation of fake or spoofed antivirus products that bill themselves as antispyware can be troublesome. Users may receive popups prompting them to install them to protect their computer, when it will in fact add spyware. This software is called rogue software. It is recommended that users do not install any freeware claiming to be anti-spyware unless it is verified to be legitimate.
Some known offenders include:. Fake antivirus products constitute 15 percent of all malware. On January 26, , Microsoft and the Washington state attorney general filed suit against Secure Computer for its Spyware Cleaner product.
Unauthorized access to a computer is illegal under computer crime laws, such as the U. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act , the U. Since owners of computers infected with spyware generally claim that they never authorized the installation, a prima facie reading would suggest that the promulgation of spyware would count as a criminal act. Law enforcement has often pursued the authors of other malware, particularly viruses. However, few spyware developers have been prosecuted, and many operate openly as strictly legitimate businesses, though some have faced lawsuits.
Spyware producers argue that, contrary to the users' claims, users do in fact give consent to installations.