Spyware: It's Lurking on Your Machine

Thursday, 3 April 2003, 1:57 PM EST

The first sign of trouble came when Marc Heatherington installed his personal firewall. Every few minutes, it warned him an application was sending Internet traffic. Initially, he ignored the warnings. Then his daughter noticed his browser launching new home pages, including xupiter.com. Worried that this was related to the outgoing traffic, Heatherington tracked down the offending DLLs, in a subdirectory labeled Xupiter. Web research told him he'd uncovered spyware—local software that surreptitiously tracks your behavior.

Xupiter is an advertising and marketing program that launches pop-up ads. It adds bookmarks to your browser's menu. And, as Heatherington discovered, it hijacks your browser's home page. More disturbing, to serve ads and sites tailored for you, Xupiter transmits information about your PC and your surfing habits to xupiter.com; hence Heatherington's suspicious traffic.

None of the Heatheringtons remembered downloading Xupiter—unsurprising, because Xupiter is a "drive-by download." If your Internet security controls aren't properly set, just visiting a Web site or clicking on a Web ad can install an app.

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