Spyware is the
biggest problem currently facing Windows computer users. Some experts estimate
80% of PCs have some sort of infection. This problem is serious for all
users, but for businesses the risks are greater, as the offensive nature of many popups and messages can create staff and legal problems.
Spyware is the generic term the industry uses for software that
installs without the users knowledge or consent. Usually this software is
designed to monitor usage, hence the spyware term. The usage details are
often used to feed advertising to the system.
is a concern with these programs, the main problem is how they interfere
with the operation of a computer. Often a computer grinds to a halt under
the weight of these programs. Another serious issue is the often offensive
advertising that appears on the computer.
does it get onto systems?
Visiting websites with spyware embedded is the most common way of being
infected, pornographic sites are a common culprit, but games, music and
entertainment sites are also often infected. Spyware also finds its way
onto a system through free programs required to play games or view images.
Some legitimate programs have spyware included as part of the package.
Many of these
programs ask permission before installing. Often, the user is not aware
that by clicking yes, spyware will be installed. Its important that
users check before agreeing to install any software on their systems.
All systems have the potential to be infected by these programs. However
Windows users using Internet Explorer are by far the most vulnerable to
spyware. Windows users should use an alternative browser, such as Firefox
or Opera, however they still need to take care in their surfing habits.
For businesses, there is more at stake than the home user. For what
is an irritant on a home PC, can involve loss of income or personnel issues
on a business system. Its therefore important that business do all
they can to reduce the risk of infection.
- Usage policies
Management should institute policies that make it clear surfing
to non-work related websites is unacceptable. An acceptable usage policy
should be signed by all computer users. This is an aspect outside the
scope of IT administrators and should be implemented by HR.
- Server security
The integrity of a server is paramount. Users should have permissions
only to execute, not modify programs on the server. Data files should
be scanned for viruses and spyware every day.
A firewall is important to network security. While a firewall
will not stop spyware getting onto computers, it can be used to block
non work related sites being accessed. A firewall should be chosen that
has the facility to update lists of inappropriate sites.
- Network spyware blocker
Because a firewall cannot filter spyware, its important to have
software based spyware protection. Having centrally managed and updated
spyware protection reduces the risk of unprotected systems causing problems
on the network. These programs are different to anti virus programs but
do work in a similar manner.
- Desktop spyware blocker.
The desktop computer is where spyware will be first encountered. Given
the bulk of spyware relies on security flaws in Windows, its important
to have desktop protection. We recommend the Microsoft AntiSpyware tool
is installed on all Windows 2000 and XP systems.
- Minimise Internet Explorer usage
While no browser is immune from spyware, Internet Explorer is by far the
most vulnerable. We recommend using Firefox or Opera for day-to-day web
browsing. Some legitimate sites only work on Internet Explorer, so it
cant be completely abandoned.
Spyware is a major problem for all computer users. For
businesses the risks are much greater. While we cannot ensure all machines
are immune from infection, it is possible to reduce the danger of infection.