In most cases, spyware gets onto your computer because you have installed it unknowingly. This is how it works: when you find some sort of free program or file online, you download it and it comes bundled together with spyware. This is also the case with shareware. For spyware creators like Claria, which is the largest spyware company, this method of spyware transmission is very profitable. Claria had revenues of $35 million just last year.
Spyware as a profitable business really began to surge when free internet applications became available online. Since applications such as Web browser, email, and instant messaging were free, it didn’t take long before users expected free software as well. Software makers were having a hard time selling software for even low prices and they had trouble battling against illegal file sharing as well. Instead of trying to increase sales, the software makers decided to offer free software but include spyware bundled with it.
A spyware company will pay a software company for every time the software is installed. Then, the spyware uses targeted ads on the user. When a user clicks on the ad or makes a purchase through the ad, the spyware company profits.
An example of this is the free file sharing application Kazaa which comes bundled with spyware from the company Claria. Kazaa gets paid by Claria every time its program is installed. Then, the Claria spyware creates targeted pop-up ads for users and profits each time one of those ads is clicked on. If you visit the Dish Network homepage, a pop-up ad for DirecTV will appear.
This method of spyware distribution occurs with all sorts of free downloads including software and file sharing. Often, the terms and conditions for downloading a free application will mention that spyware is included with the download. However, not many people take the time to read through the terms and conditions. It is also common for the information about spyware to be deceptively hidden in a very long and confusing terms and conditions statement. The downloader simply clicks “Accept” and gets the spyware.
Fake Windows Security Boxes
To start downloading spyware, sometimes all it takes is a click of a link. One of the most common ways that spyware makers get users to click on their links is by disguising them as Windows security boxes.
The boxes look just like a normal Windows security box. However, when you click on them, the link causes your security settings to change and spyware to be installed on your computer without your knowledge. For example, a box might read, “Optimize your internet access.” Even if you hit the “No” button, you will still trigger the spyware.
If you do not have high security on your computer, you run the risk of spyware finding its way inside. Some of the newer spyware programs have even learned to find their way through holes in firewall and antispyware software. Spyware is often distributed with a virus. First, a virus is sent to a computer. Instead of replicating and possibly destroying a computer’s system like a normal virus, its job is instead to create a hole for the spyware to enter.
There are several other illicit ways in which spyware can enter a computer. For example, there are spyware programs which are spread through emails. Even if the email gets tagged as potentially dangerous and the user doesn’t read it, the spyware can still be spread just by having it displayed in a preview pane.