The Catholic Parish of
Blessed John Henry Newman

 Covering most of East Leeds

Parish Magazine - Sept. Oct. 2004

Page 10 of 12 Read 413 Times

Are You Being Spied On?


Is your computer telling people more than it should about you? Let me explain.

‘Spyware’ is the term used to describe an insidious plague on the Internet, spreading rapidly, and sending information about you, and what web sites you visit, back to marketing companies. This may sound relatively innocuous, but the loss of privacy is only the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately your Anti Virus software won't protect you, as spyware is not classed as a virus.

The term spyware covers a multitude of sins; let's look at the four main ones.

Cookies


Cookies need a brief explanation. A ‘Cookie’ is a small file that your web browser allows a web site to place on your computer. They are supposed to be used by a web site to store information about you on your computer, and ‘remember’ details, such as your name, and other innocent things like that. Some web sites, like Amazon, even allow you to have your username and password remembered, to save you the bother of having to type them in every time you visit. This is what they were designed for, and in the main, they’re a good thing.

Advertisers use cookies differently. As their adverts all come from their machine, even though they display on thousands of other web sites, the cookie can be used to track you from site to site. These are called ‘third party cookies’ and present a privacy risk. They can also inadvertently reveal more information about you, such as your e-mail address, and in extreme cases your username, password and even credit card number. Your e-mail address may wind up on a distribution list so that you end up receiving spam (unsolicited) e-mails. As for usernames, passwords and credit card details, you can imagine the dangers for yourself.

Unfortunately Internet Explorer does not allow you to block third party cookies, in fact it doesn't even warn you about them.

Browser Helper Objects and ActiveX controls


Browser Helper Objects, or BHO's are a unique feature of Internet Explorer (IE). They are small programs, which IE allows to run on your machine, that extend the functionality of IE. In theory you are supposed to be informed before one installs, but malicious people either trick you, or use security flaws in the browser to install them without your knowledge. They often appear as improved search bars in IE or other useful features, but they also sit there and spy on you. As they are on your machine, they can report more than cookies, and malicious ones actively look out for personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers. ActiveX controls are similar but, though more powerful, tend to be more difficult for a malicious site to install without your knowledge. Certainly, not all BHO's and ActiveX controls are malicious, some, in fact, are very useful.

Programs


Any program you install on your computer carries a risk of spyware in the same way they carry a risk of viruses. Some programs are designed to spy on you from the word go, but others are more innocent, in fact the author may not even realise what he's let loose. This is because, for some people, the best way to get their reward for providing you with free software, is to include within their program another program which displays adverts, and they get paid by the advertisers for this. This is often a good thing, as you get your useful utility for free, and the author gets paid. However, some of these advertising components are classed as spyware, and can be malicious.




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Published Sun 19th Dec 2004 17:31:11

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