Cyber Eye: Who knows what evil lurks on your drive?

William Jackson

In a digital game of Spy vs. Spy, the pointy-hatted adversaries are fighting it out on your hard drive.

Companies such as SpectorSoft Corp. of Vero Beach, Fla., develop spyware that covertly reports on computer users' activities. Other vendors, such as SpyCop Inc. of Panama City, Fla., make software to detect and remove the spyware.

So SpectorSoft has put code into its eBlaster and Spector products to block SpyCop and similar tools. And SpyCop uses stealth technology to evade SpectorSoft's detection code.

'Our view is that the vast majority of people purchasing antispy solutions are simply doing bad things that they don't want others to know about,' SpectorSoft president Doug Fowler said. His main markets are employers'including government'plus parents and spouses.

SpectorSoft's Web site contains such testimonials as, 'After 11 years of marriage, I could finally find a product that confirmed what I suspected for years'that my husband was a cyberpervert of the first order.'

Unlike the Antonio Prohias cartoon characters of MAD magazine fame, spyware products come in shades of gray rather than only black and white.

'We're the good guys,' boasted SpyCop founder Grey McKenzie. But he added that SpectorSoft products have legitimate uses, and that 'bad people can use our spyware to see if they're being watched.'

Both companies claim to have government customers.

SpyCop focuses its efforts on ferreting out commercial spyware, McKenzie said. Such programs can be installed quickly by anyone with access to a computer, and some can be installed remotely, like a virus.

Unless you have a suspicious spouse or parent, you are more likely to be exposed to spyware that comes hidden in freeware programs or Web sites. These programs can collect and report almost any kind of data, but they are most often used by marketers to monitor online activities.

'Uninstalling the software that delivered the spyware often does not remove the spyware itself, although removing spyware often disables the application that installed it,' the National Institute of Standards and Technology warned in Special Publication 800-46 about broadband security.

Let the surfer beware.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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