Spyware and adware are types of harmful software which are used by some unscrupulous individuals to spy on the behavior of Internet users. These applications, also called "spy programs", are a form of malware, as they invade people's privacy when using the internet.
Spyware and adware focus mainly on how users click on certain types of advert, and on the time users spend viewing web pages. This data and the email address of the user who is being spied on are then used to create user profiles which are sent to the creators of the spy program. This information is incorporated in large databases of detailed consumer profiles, and these are then sold to advertisers.
There are still numerous myths going around on the Internet describing the terrible disasters which will befall our computers if we open an email with a particular subject line: hard disks will be erased, monitors will be damaged, broadband connections will be rendered unusable, etc.
The great majority of information circulating on the Internet warning people about new viruses is completely false; such rumors, generally spread via email, are referred to as "hoaxes". Somebody wants to play a trick and sends the hoax out to everyone he knows, asking them to send the message on to everyone in their address book. What does the hoaxer gain from this? Sometimes this is done for entertainment alone, while others reap the benefit at the end: the addresses obtained from sending and resending hundreds of emails are used to create huge distribution lists which can then be used in an advertising emailing, for example.
In situations of uncertainty or where there is already, for example, widespread fear of terrorist attacks, this can degenerate into all-out panic, helping false alarms to proliferate. For this reason it is important to draw a clear distinction between genuine virus alerts and hoaxes.
The whole problem of hoaxes is much more serious and more difficult to combat than one might think, with many of them circulating freely on the internet, and with all attempts to control them apparently doomed to failure. In fact, many experts believe that putting a stop to them is more or less impossible, although we can all help to reduce the number of hoaxes circulating on the internet.
While false virus alarms are perhaps the favorite method used by internet tricksters, It is also worth distinguishing other types of rumor in order to ensure that the issues are not confused yet further. Many of these are little more than varieties of hoax, but others may have a range of implications which can endanger the security of computer systems.
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