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Many claim to have a handle on security but amazingly there still exists some confusion about spyware and adware and it's effect on computing environments. Developer.com's Jim Minatel spells it all out. Grab the full, in-depth article here.
The category of software called adware is an annoyance that has grown in magnitude in the last few years. As its name implies, the software programmer or vendor makes their money by inserting ads in the software. Often, the software tracks your web surfing habits, reports them to a central ad tracking database, and uses that information to know which ads to send you based on what it thinks your interests are.
This kind of software is most frequently found in free internet downloads. In fact, some of the first popular programs to make widespread use of adware techniques were the p2p file sharing clients that popularized MP3 music swapping online. Most users did not initially realize the p2p software they were installing carried adware. So, whenever you download software to install it, be sure you read the terms and license conditions carefully. Although annoying, most adware vendors today are legitimate enough to at least explain somewhere in their licensing terms or installation that they are installing ad programs like this.
A more insidious variation of this adware is spyware. Instead of collecting web surfing information for ads though, spyware attempts to collect information secretly. Spyware might try to log your keystrokes (so your spouse who installed it can see what you've been typing at 3 a.m.). Or spyware might be installed as part of a worm or trojan horse (see Term of the Week: Malware) and attempt to log your keystrokes when you visit your bank web site or a retailer site to attempt to collect banking or credit card account numbers to defraud you. Whatever the spyware is doing, it generally has the ability to transmit whatever it collects over the internet to whoever installed it....
Jim Minatel is a freelance writer for Developer.com in addition to working with Wiley and WROX publishing.