How anti-spyware software works
Anti-spyware programs can combat spyware in two ways:
- They can provide real-time protection in a manner similar to that of anti-virus protection: they scan all incomingnetwork data for spyware and blocks any threats it detects.
- Anti-spyware software programs can be used solely for detection and removal of spyware software that has already been installed into the computer. This kind of anti-spyware can often be set to scan on a regular schedule.
Such programs inspect the contents of the Windows registry, operating system files, and installed programs, and remove files and entries which match a list of known spyware. Real-time protection from spyware works identically to real-time anti-virus protection: the software scans disk files at download time, and blocks the activity of components known to represent spyware. In some cases, it may also intercept attempts to install start-up items or to modify browser settings. Earlier versions of anti-spyware programs focused chiefly on detection and removal. Javacool Software's SpywareBlaster, one of the first to offer real-time protection, blocked the installation of ActiveX-based spyware.
Like most anti-virus software, many anti-spyware/adware tools require a frequently updated database of threats. As new spyware programs are released, anti-spyware developers discover and evaluate them, adding to the list of known spyware, which allows the software to detect and remove new spyware. As a result, anti-spyware software is of limited usefulness without regular updates. Updates may be installed automatically or manually.
A popular generic spyware removal tool used by those that requires a certain degree of expertise is HijackThis, which scans certain areas of the Windows OS where spyware often resides and presents a list with items to delete manually. As most of the items are legitimate windows files/registry entries it is advised for those who are less knowledgeable on this subject to post a HijackThis log on the numerous antispyware sites and let the experts decide what to delete.
If a spyware program is not blocked and manages to get itself installed, it may resist attempts to terminate or uninstall it. Some programs work in pairs: when an anti-spyware scanner (or the user) terminates one running process, the other one respawns the killed program. Likewise, some spyware will detect attempts to remove registry keys and immediately add them again. Usually, booting the infected computer in safe mode allows an anti-spyware program a better chance of removing persistent spyware. Killing the process tree may also work.
To detect spyware, computer users have found several practices useful in addition to installing anti-spyware programs. Many users have installed a web browser other than Internet Explorer, such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Though no browser is completely safe, Internet Explorer is at a greater risk for spyware infection due to its large user base as well as vulnerabilities such as ActiveX.
Some ISPs—particularly colleges and universities—have taken a different approach to blocking spyware: they use their network firewalls and web proxies to block access to Web sites known to install spyware. On March 31, 2005, Cornell University's Information Technology department released a report detailing the behavior of one particular piece of proxy-based spyware, Marketscore, and the steps the university took to intercept it. Many other educational institutions have taken similar steps.
Individual users can also install firewalls from a variety of companies. These monitor the flow of information going to and from a networked computer and provide protection against spyware and malware. Some users install a large hosts filewhich prevents the user's computer from connecting to known spyware-related web addresses. Spyware may get installed via certain shareware programs offered for download. Downloading programs only from reputable sources can provide some protection from this source of attack.
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