What is Snoopware?

Snoopware: I Wanna Know What You're Up To!

Snoopware watches your computer habits on behalf of someone else, usually someone you know. This can include parental monitoring software programs designed to track children's computer habits.

Employers might install snoopware to keep an eye on employee computer habits to ensure they're not spending too much time on ineedanewboyfriend.com.

One of the most popular uses of snoopware is to track the behavior of a spouse. Usually it's purchased by wives who suspect their husbands are up to no good on the Internet, though it can equally track wives who might be sending the pool boy spicy emails.

The software can grab screen captures (snapshots of a screen) and record email, chat conversations, and other computer communications. In some cases it can deliver that information in real-time across a computer network.

I'll skip any moral judgments on snoopware and leave that for the nice ladies over at the garden club. Needless to say, it creates lots of controversy.

One of the most famous snoopware software companies is called SpectorSoft at www.spectorsoft.com. See the below screenshot:

Various Types of Spyware

Like the term virus, which is often used as a generic term for all malicious attack software, the term spyware has a similar catch-all usage. It encompasses a family of malware that all has some snoop capability. Let's have a look at the various types.

Spyware: I Spy with My Little App

Spyware includes programs that can record what you do on your computer and share that information with a stranger via an Internet connection. Some can watch and record your web-surfing habits. Some log everything you type. Spyware can also capture user IDs and passwords. It might have the ability to see where you have been on the Web. If there's information on your computer that is of interest to someone and can make them a little money, there's probably a spyware program to capture it.

The motivation to spy this way can be criminal (capturing information for identity theft, perhaps) but most often it's commercial in nature. A company wants to understand you better so it can trigger customized ads or analyze your behavior and sell that marketing data.

Adware: Attack of the Pop-ups

Adware is equally annoying because it not only spies on you, but then it shows you ads. Some adware spies on you because its mission is to show you ads customized to your tastes, usually via pop-up ads on your computer's desktop.

Sometimes adware is a legitimate part of a free program. Software publishers often bundle adware in with free programs they offer, using it as a revenue source. Many warn you of the adware during installation in the End User License Agreement, also referred to as an EULA. (That term always make me think of a slightly portly aunt that you hate to kiss but who makes good cupcakes.)

In a computer, the EULA is that scrollable box of soporific text (which probably earned some lawyer a Jacuzzi) that we all have to agree to before we can install a software package.

The EULA's legalese often says that in return for use of the program for free, you must allow the installation of the adware. See the below screenshot:

Marketing companies that publish and distribute adware often take offense if their products are called spyware. Then again they take offense if you call it anything but install-this-now-because-it's-really-good-ware.

To thwart any potential legal action, computer security companies sometimes call these products potentially unwanted programs or PUPs. Security company McAfeefamous for its antivirus softwarecoined the term.

In any event, it pays to at least skim the EULA before just clicking the Next button. If you see anything suspicious, cancel the installation and do a Google search on the software you're installing. Chances are that if it contains spyware, adware, or any other undesirables, someone will be railing about it on the Internet somewhere.

There is one another type called as Snooper which is rather interesting! Check out What is Snoopware?

How Does Spyware Sneak onto Your Computer?

Spyware gets onto your computer through a variety of sneaky techniques:
  • It arrives as an automatic download from a website you are surfing. This is called drive-by downloading. If you visit naughty websites, those sites are probably your chief source of spyware.
  • You can be tricked into clicking on a link that downloads spyware from a website. Those browser windows that pop up telling you that you've won a prize are a prime example.
  • Spyware can be embedded in the installation process of a free or pirated piece of software you download. File sharing programs, such as Kazaa, are known for including a variety of spyware programs with their installers.
  • Spyware can also get on your computer via an email attachment you shouldn't have opened. It often comes as an attachment to commercial email, also called spam.

Internet Downloads that might Contain Spyware

Here are the kinds of files that you can download from the Internet that might contain spyware:
  • Toolbars for your desktop or web browser
  • Free games, puzzles, or other interactive entertainment
  • Free screensavers or animated characters for your computer's desktop as shown in the below figure
  • Free pop-up blocker programs
  • Files downloaded from file-sharing services
Note: Not all free downloads contain spyware. Many programmers release their programs free for the good of the Internet community and they are spyware-free.

Bonzi Buddy is an animated monkey that can act as a fun talking virtual helper. The software, however, is a well-known piece of spyware.