Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Spyware Busters Surf the Web for a Living

Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

From The Wall Street Journal Online

Simon Clausen, chief executive of computer-security firm PC Tools, is tackling one of the biggest online privacy threats -- by encouraging his employees to surf the Web for pornography.

Mr. Clausen knows that these shady sites often host the newest variations of spyware: programs that hide on your hard drive and cause all sorts of mischief, from displaying pop-up ads to stealing private information and spying on your Web-surfing habits. By sending his researchers into the unsavory corners of the Web, Mr. Clausen hopes to keep up to speed on the latest developments in spyware -- and find new ways to defeat them.

Spyware busting is a relatively new niche in the software business. Most of the companies that market defensive products only got into the field in the past year or so, as Web users became more aware of the ballooning problem. Now, like PC Tools, these companies are discovering that fighting spyware is a much tougher, and messier, business than they anticipated.

Incentive and Means

Unlike the pranksters who write computer viruses, spyware makers aren't interested in crashing your hard drive, hijacking your email or playing any other destructive tricks. Instead, they get paid by marketers to serve up annoying pop-up ads or collect information about your Web-surfing habits. Some of the most egregious spyware programs even harvest personal information and sell it to crooks.

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