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Guide 2 Spyware   >   How Harmful is Spyware?

How Harmful is Spyware?

by Drew Pilton

You have often heard the terms "spyware" or "malware" in the media. They're omnipresent; not a single day can pass without a new spyware report, without at least a newspaper accounting for some serious damage due to such a program and so on. But have you ever wondered how harmful spyware actually is? How serious is its threat? How exposed are you?

Let us look at the first question first. How exposed are you? Most users quietly assume that spyware is not as serious as it sounds: if you just stay away from malicious websites, there shouldn't be any problems, right?

Actually, the answer is two-fold. On one hand, it's true that the largest gateway used by spyware programs are indeed malicious websites. This is really an umbrella term, these websites don't do anything per se, but they do offer malicious programs for download or in some extreme cases, offer to install malicious browser add-ons.

On the other hand, these websites are far from being the only ways spyware can get on your computer. You can also receive spyware by e-mail, if the program's author wrote it like a Trojan. Spyware can get on your computer by exploiting vulnerabilities in your operating system, if it was built like a worm and in this case, you are exposed.

There is no 100% effective way to make sure that your computer will not be infected by spyware. The reason for this is that spyware can be installed on your computer just like any other program. For a computer, a spyware program looks like any other program. In order to discern between a legitimate one and a malicious one, the program's code itself has to be analyzed. Unfortunately, this is largely impossible to do on-the-fly, not without causing major annoyances for the user.

As a consequence, most users prefer to adopt a defensive, but fairly liberal posture when it comes to protecting their computer against infection. However, if they are willing to occasionally make compromises when preventing infection, they will rarely make compromises when treating infections. Employing a powerful anti-spyware program, like XoftSpySE for example, is a sure way to keep your computer clean.

Half of the question has been answered so far, but what about the other half? Is spyware really that harmful? What can it do that makes software companies employ huge resources to combat it?

Again, the answer is two-fold. On one hand, we should begin by noting that most spyware is, essentially, harmless. By 'harmless', we are referring to the fact that they do not have a perceptibly negative impact in the long-term. Sure, they do display very annoying ads (maybe less annoying since they are often related to a user's interest, but nevertheless, they are unwelcome), and some of them bring other friends along, but this is not something to be concerned with. Just use your favorite anti-spyware tool to remove them, and you're done.

On the other hand, if most spyware is essentially harmless, there are some rogues out there. These are the truly dangerous programs, which steal really sensible data. For instance, a browser add-on which monitors your search strings is not too harmful. But such an add-on can easily be adapted to monitor your passwords. If you use web-based e-mail, e-banking or e-finance solutions, chances are you do not want such a program around.

How common are these programs? Not too common but this is not all good news, because 'rarely encountered' also means 'rarely detected'. Such powerful programs usually have extremely robust avoidance schemes, managing to escape the detection of even the most advanced anti-spyware programs.

The only way to reliably detect such programs is to use very advanced, continuously improved detection algorithms, so as to stay one step ahead their ability to escape detection. Most experts agree that the winner in this game is XoftSpySE, which employs some very original detection methods. Indeed, since some of the detection schemes are non-conventional, many advanced spyware programs cannot escape detection.

If we were to sum our findings in a single phrase, we could say that spyware is usually harmless, but potentially very dangerous. The potential dangers go all the way to identity theft, in fact there have been some spyware-based identity thefts reported. As a consequence, using an advanced anti-spyware program to regularly scan your computer is a must, regardless of how sane your browsing habits are.

About the Author

The auther specialises in computer security and optimisation. To read reviews on the top five Anti-Spyware programs visit

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