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July 16, 2007

A Brief History of Spyware

“Spyware” has evolved in the cyber era as the most dangerous, damaging and menacing technological appliance in current history. It is no aggravation of statement that if you are linked to the Internet, there’s every chance of being affected by this nuisance. So, it is a good time for us to possess a peripheral view about “spyware”.

It was on 16th October 1996, when the word “spyware” was used in the public for the first time. It appeared on the Usenet. Basically it was on an article sarcastically aimed at the business strategies of the global leader Microsoft. Later still, around about the year 1999, its usage was synonymous to spy equipment like microphone bugs or miniature cameras. Later that year in a press release of Zone Alarm Personal Firewall by the Zone Labs Company it was used in the meaning we know it today.

The word “spyware” was an instant hit in the mass media and among the general mass and soon after in June 2000, the first anti-spyware application OptOut was released by Steve Gibson. Gibson planned to market its OptOut for a very competitive price but they faced tough competition from Lavasoft, around the middle of 2000 with their free anti-spyware software version 1.0 offered absolutely for free. Lavasoft’s application was more competent as a spyware removal component and already was performing multi-tasking applications. As a result Gibson had to abscent himself from the race leaving their OptOut with no more development. Nevertheless, OptOut could be termed as the pioneer of anti-spyware applications.

It must be stated that the term “spyware” yields a bit of confusion. Though the word renders a notion of information being send back to certain individuals, not all spyware applications may perform this job. Many computer personnel dealing with data security management prefer the word “malware” in place of “spyware” as it indicates a software that is particularly detrimental to the computer system. Another word “adware” is also popular to specify software applications like keyloggers and Trojans, which are nothing but “spyware” in usage.

According to a once celebrated cyber report, an explicit spyware application was put forward to numerous internet users under the covering of a free, exceedingly user friendly and a mass alluring game software named “Elf Bowling”. This occurrence took place in around the 1999s. At present, and in general, the Windows operating system is the more favorable target of the spyware applications.

A few of the most iniquitous spyware programming are Xupiter, Gator, XXXDial, DirectRevenue, Euniverse, CoolWebSearch, 180 Solutions, Bonzi Buddy and Cydoor. One thing is to be noted. All these applications attack only Microsoft Windows operating systems. Platforms like Linux and Mac OS X are never ever reported to be affected in anyway by these spyware applications.

In October 2004, America Online and the National Cyber-Security Alliance performed a survey. The result was startling. About 80% of all internet users have their system affected by spyware and about 93% of spyware components are present in each of the computers and 89% of the computer users were unaware of their existence. Out of the affected parties almost all, about 95% confessed that they never granted permission to install them.

Legally speaking, spyware cannot be entitled as a virus as it never replicates itself. As a result it remains undetected when anti-virus applications are used. What’s more, you actually agree to be spied upon while you click the ‘I agree’ button on the screen while you install software which contains spyware files (often bundled in). Unfortunately, people rarely read end user licence agreements while downloading and, if they were to read them, the documents are written in legalize. People never refer to a lawyer while doing such things as downloading or installing.

To safely enumerate what spyware actually is, we can easily quote what Dick Hazeleger, famous for his “Spyware List”, said, “Spyware is the name which was given to software that – without the user of the program knowing that the software performs this kind of action – traces the user’s usage of the internet and sends this information – again without the user knowing this is happening – to a computer (“Server”) designated by the developer of the Spyware software. By performing these actions, detailed user profiles may be collected – without the user’s knowledge and approval – which then can be used for commercial or other purposes. By gathering and sending this information both resources on the user’s computer as well as bandwidth on the Internet is abusively used, not to mention the breach of privacy such a User profile would be.”

The state of Utah has already gone a step ahead of others and announced that several tasks performed by spyware would be strictly proscribed. Even the US Congress is preparing to follow the same line of operation. House Resolution 2929–the Spy Act has been prepared to control this menace.

This is what Utah’s antispyware law, the Spyware Control Act, has to say, “… we would not consider any application that uses pop-ups, is distributed through file sharing such as Kazaa or is not removable. Beyond that, we would look for applications that provide consumers value and would be installed on their own if people knew about them. The aggressive tactics of some advertising-supported software has given the whole sector a bad name. But if the software is fully disclosed and doesn’t rely on intrusive methods such as pop-ups, the consumer should have a choice to view ads in return for software. What’s more, the developer should have a right to make money. Beyond these guidelines, the legal risks and moral problems become clear, and legitimate businesses should stay away from these practices.”

At present Microsoft can champion about its anti spyware application release and it is mandatory for the software developers to be certified by the International Charter as Spyware Free.

Author:  Chinedu Norbert writes a blog about spyware and adware removal at He recommends using a product called NoAdWare.