From Benign to Malicious: Commercial Spyware

While the techniques have evolved, hacking is not a new practice by far.  Over the years, intruders have developed numerous ways to program computers to spy on other machines.  However, commercial spyware is a relatively new concept that has plagued numerous personal computers and business networks.  In the late 90s, many companies began to monitor the online activity of their employees.  This was done to discourage them from sending inappropriate messages or accessing inappropriate content on a company computer.  Monitoring software remains prevalent in today's business world. 

Home users were introduced to commercial spyware as high-speed internet connections became more popular.  Firewall applications grew popular around the same time, able to report outgoing and incoming internet traffic.  User then noticed that some of their downloaded programs accessed the internet more frequently than they should have.  Shortly, adware was discovered and actually being used by a few prominent software companies including Broderbund and RealNetworks - both of these companies have ceased this method of advertising due to widespread complaints from the public. 

Adware was created as a way for small freeware and shareware developers to stay in business.  These developers were offered money by marketing companies to include adware codes into their programs.  This gave the software developers a steady means of cash.  It also gave the marketers a way to advertise their products to millions while gaining personal information about those users for future endeavors.  This worked out for everyone, even the user who was able to download the software for little to no money.  The downside was that users also had to turn over a bit of their privacy as well. 

The Truth

The fact that a user can easily be victimized by a spyware program is enough to strike fear in anyone.  The truth is that adware strictly designed to display pop-up advertisements are more prevalent than spyware applications looking to steal your sensitive information.  Many well known companies incorporate adware into their programs, something that has not deterred millions of people from using their software.  While there is a great chance your computer is being monitored on the job, it's rather unlikely that a hacker is running through your computer in search of sensitive data, although it has been known to occur.  

Future Outlook

Though it's no way to predict how much spyware will increase over the next few years, it's rather apparent that this intrusive infection is here to stay.  Adware has become an essential part of basic internet computing, accompanying freeware and even popular email servers.  Businesses will continue to monitor employee behavior while parents are more likely to check out the online activity of their kids.   

Just knowing its capability makes spyware a very frightening concept.  Without proper security implementation, your computer is vulnerable to commercial spyware and wide range of other threats.  You can drastically reduce the chance of being infected by taking caution when downloading freeware and shareware programs, never opening the email attachment from an unknown sender and installing a reliable firewall application.  

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