Spyware: it is obtained without the owner's consent; it causes instability and often puts personal information into the hands of cyber-criminals. A recent survey by Dell, found that nearly 80 percent of all home computers connected to the Internet are infected with it.
Spyware currently does not have a clear definition but can be described as a program which tracks every Web site that is visited on an infected computer, allowing an identity thief to easily obtain personal information.
"Almost every computer we receive has some Spyware on it," said Kyle Haefner, a technician at Software Cellar at CSU. "Some computers become so infected with Spyware that we are forced to rebuild the hard drives. It gets to the point that you can't do simple tasks on your computer."
Kevin Nolan, a computer specialist at CSU, said Spyware has become a problem just recently because advertisers and identity thieves use key logging, which intercepts keystrokes to track user habits, credit card information, social security numbers and other personal information.
Spyware also opens the back doors of computers and allows them to interact with other computers without the user knowing.
According to Tim Tibbetts, the founder of majorgeeks.com, an online company that checks and distributes anti-Spyware and anti-virus tools, Spyware is a program put on computers without the users knowledge. It can be installed by clicking on a pop-up advertisement or even by typing in the wrong Web address.
"The words are not there to explain our anger and frustration," Tibbetts said. "We all know someone who is infected, if not ourselves. The main frustration is that we do not have a control on Spyware. Lowlifes attack less knowledgeable users day-in and day-out with deceptive tactics. People who do this are as low as someone attacking a senior citizen, the lowest of the low."
Although Spyware has been around since 2002, it has only recently become a serious problem. In an effort to battle the problem, the anti-Spyware software market has exploded from $82 million in 2004 to $395 million in 2005.
Webroot, a Boulder-based software company has joined the fight against Spyware. Webroot is in the process of taking on serious competition from major companies including Microsoft, Symantec and McAfee.
Three venture funds have invested nearly $108 million into the company, with the hope that Webroot will become a major player in the battle against Spyware.
According to Webroot, the $108 million investment equals a quarter of all venture funds received by Colorado companies in 2004. Webroot's main product is Spy Sweeper. Spy Sweeper has won top ratings from PC Magazine for the past three years.
Because the Spyware problem is becoming so great, Nolan said CSU is in the process of negotiating a proposal to obtain a license for an anti-Spyware to implement on student's computers.
"We are looking into obtaining Spyware Sweeper because it is more proactive than other anti-Spyware programs," Nolan said. "It helps prevent getting Spyware as opposed to just removing it."
To prevent getting Spyware installed on your computer, Tibbetts advises using a secure browser, book marking frequently visited pages and using basic caution whenever surfing the Internet.
"Because Spyware is designed to attack Windows, be sure to use the Windows updates," Nolan said. "Also use preventative steps such as running an anti-virus program and being a lot more careful while surfing the Internet."