I was asked again today, 'How come my Norton's anti-virus program doesn't stop the spyware?' The stock answer is 'because spyware isn't a virus.'
There are three problem children associated with the internet. They are Spam, Spyware and Viruses.
Spam is unsolicited e-mail. It is similar to the bulk mail you receive in your physical mailbox. Spam has become a major problem for Internet Service Providers. Trying to stop the spam without accidentally stopping the newsletters you have subscribed to is a major issue.
There is a new type of spam. It is called 'spim'. Spim attacks your instant message accounts. It is estimated that spim will triple from 400 million messages in 2003 to 1.2 billion this year.
According to the antivirus firm Sophos, America is the leading producer of spam, generating 42.53% of total spam.
Spyware is any technology that gathers information without the users consent. Typically, spyware will report current web pages browsed to advertisers (presumably those would include things you are interested in) but can also include key loggers that watch for credit card and bank account numbers.
Spyware can come into your computer via a virus, via a download, or as the result of clicking in a pop-up window. Adware is the less threatening version of spyware. Adware will drive you crazy with popups, but it doesn't report your credit card numbers to undeserving recipients.
A virus is a program that will duplicate itself. As of March 31, 2005, Norton's is reporting that there are 69,247 known viruses. New viruses are discovered daily. Viruses can have any number of payloads (destructive behaviors). Some will simply get in the way, some will install spyware, some will delete data, some will setup your computer to be a transport for spam. I have never met a computer virus that responds to chicken soup.
The most common way to get a virus is through an e-mail attachment but they can also come in through regular files (think Word files) or downloads. You've heard it many times: 'Don't open an attachment from someone you don't know !'
So back to the original question: Why doesn't Norton's Anti-Virus stop the spyware? Because spyware isn't a virus! To stop spyware you need a spyware tool. We recommend Ad-Aware, a free download available at: http://www.lavasoft.com/. Ad-Aware will clean roughly 80% of the infections from your system. If you are still having problems after running Ad-Aware, then professional care is needed. Bring your system in during the month of April, mention this article and receive a 15% discount off of your service work.