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What is Spyware/Adware/Foistware?

Basically, these items are somewhat related. They are programs that are often bundled with other programs and not fully disclosed (the purest definition of foistware), for the purpose of collecting information about you and your computer use practices and sending that info to a third party (spyware) or gathering "anonymous" data in order serve customized ads, either in banners located in some programs or pop-up applications (adware).

Why are they bad?

In many cases, adware is just annoying. Other than being a periodic source of bandwidth usage when downloading the ads, it doesn't do all that much. Not all adware is "evil". An example of "good" adware is the free version of the Opera browser. It has full-disclosure, relatively innocuous ads that aren't too annoying and no pop ups. It does not blur the line and start crossing into being spyware.

Spyware is a sort of catch all term that can mean a program that collects information about the way you use your computer and reports that back to a third party for supplying "targeted advertising". This is a step up from just annoying adware and many times is still called adware.

It can also be something like a keylogger or other monitoring application. These can also blur the line between other malware (malicious software) and spyware. There are commercial monitoring and keylogging programs available and there are trojan ones running around in the wild.

Foistware can be any unwanted application that is "foisted" on you....either by non-disclosure or making it impossible to use another program without using the "foistware" item. There is a special class of foistware that is a bit more evil than being an unwanted banner is a program that is triggered by shopping links and can redirect to a competitor or even steal affiliate sales commissions.

How does this stuff spread?

In many cases it is bundled with other programs. Case in point, a very popular P2P program installs up to 60 files associated with "spyware"!

Another popular method is by pop up download, many of which exploit holes or weaknesses in Internet Explorer security. Some of these will, depending on security settings, do a "drive by" download, others make a pop up box that is a borderless image that links to the installer and not a real dialog box at all. These are often used by the less than scrupulous vendors.

Ok, it's bad but what to do about it?

First you will need to realize that removing some items will cause certain other programs to break. Using the P2P application again...remove the bundled items and the P2P will no longer work.

Next that some of these items do have working uninstallers and that if one does show up in Add/Remove programs it is best to try it first.

Apart from that you may need professional help.


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