Beware of spies in cyberspace

There has been a lot of talk lately about computer viruses. They receive much press coverage and most of us have virus protection programs on our computers to stop these viruses before they cause harm.

There is another different class of programs that surreptitiously can enter our computers to violate our privacy. They can send information about our computer habits back to third parties that collect this data for advertisers. These programs are called "spyware."

Spyware can take many forms. Some we may actually install on our computers. Parents can purchase programs to keep track of children's computer usage. Employers can install programs to keep track of office machine usage.

But other spyware programs may enter our computer secretly when we download programs over the Internet. These downloaded programs may be "freeware," those programs that are available free of charge. We all probably have many of these on our machines already.

Spyware developers make arrangements with these freeware developers to add their tracking program to the free downloads. You do not know that the spyware has been installed on your machine. Suddenly popup ads may appear when the downloaded program is used and the developer is paid for every ad that appears.

Currently these spyware trackers are legal though there may not be any indication of their presence in the privacy policies that accompany most programs.

Besides privacy issues there may be technical problems with spyware. The computer or Internet browser may become unstable or the computer may slow down.

Spyware can be removed. There are many programs that can identify and remove spyware.

To find a list, do a Google search for "spyware removal." Two of the highest rated and most popular programs are "Spybot S&D" ( and Ad-aware ( Spybot S&D is free though the developer would appreciate a donation. Ad-aware is free though they sell versions with additional features.

Follow the directions for either program and let it scan your hard drive for known spyware. If any is found, a list will appear giving you the choice of deleting those items. Many of us use both programs since they each may find different spyware.

For a good discussion of spyware, visit Gibson Research at and follow the link to OptOut or just Google "spyware."

While spyware is not illegal, it may raise privacy issues that we would like to avoid. It's a good idea to scan our computers from time-to-time and remove these unwanted programs.

If you would like to hear more about spyware or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.

Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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