Have You Been Spied?

Don't I just have fun analysing logs, where it might be the apache traffic log that I might spy on my readers, or the postfix mail log that I can trace the pattern of spams. Is "curiosity" something bad, i.e. maybe something sinful? Is it a sign of being a control freak, that you would not allow anything to disguise from your sight? Or is it a geek trend, that you would go a great length to figure out the hidden secrets all by yourself? And then "wanting to know" is different from "making an effort to know". While I am usually categorised as the first, power increases as the data is within my reach.

Well, what I wanted to say initially is actually not about my curiosity, even though it is somehow related. Whether the readers of this blog has been spied by me or not, some of them have indeed been monitored by spyware, a resident software that constantly monitoring the websites you have visited and then "helpfully" provide relevant advertisement accordingly. It is easy to discover infected clients, from a webmaster point of view, as many of those spywares actually alter the User Agent string.

What is wrong with spyware then? Beside plain annoyance, i.e. some spywares pop up random advertisement while you are browsing, the major concern is on privacy. Once the spyware is attached on your browser, it is tagged, and whoever is behind the spyware and its associates would be able to identify who you are and work out your browsing pattern. Even for me, an amateur webmaster and a curious individual but has nothing to do with spywares, find it easier to track readers down with their unique user agent tags. If you ever tried to stay anonymous on the Internet, spyware is everything against you.

But how does spyware get into the computer in the first place? Because you have chosen to install them, without reading all the fine prints in the EULA. Many applications available on the net for free downloads that boast enhancing your Internet experience contain spyware. Put the product name and the phrase "spyware" on Google to do a search to see whether some other victims have already reported that pair of peering eyes behind your new shining IE toolbar. Don't download and install anything that is suspicious.

Alternatively, use Mozilla and have peace of mind...

What can you do then, if you found your browser has already been infected? Re-install Windows is one quick solution, and it is recommended every 6 months or so anyway. Otherwise, there are plenty of spyware removal utilities on the Internet that can scan your hard drive and purge any unlawful spies. However, beware those really dodgy ones pretending to kill off all the spyware, but instead it installs a new one after the sweep. Again, Google is your friend and it's worth the effort to put in some research.

The particular spyware that I was looking at is "FunWebProducts", as there are (at least) two people from MBF have it installed! Both of their browser user-agents seem to be clean prior 27th of March, and then the dreaded tag "FunWebProducts" appeared on their user-agent on the same day so it is possible that one recommended another to install that spyware! Not a very loving way to treat your brother/sister in Christ in the same fellowship, isn't it? :)