Spyware software test

The current tests of antivirus software for Windows 10 from April of AV-TEST , the leading international and independent service provider for antivirus.
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Can we count a program stored on disk and a process running in memory as two instances? Is each registry item added by a spyware installer package one spyware instance? What if the spyware changes a registry item: can we count that?

What if two spyware use the same registry value or substitute their own DLL for a legitimate one? Can I count my competitors by labeling them scamware?

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Common sense tells me that this is all nonsense and borders on deceptive advertising. But how often does common sense prevail in a competitive market?

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When I asked several antispyware vendors how they counted, I discovered "what counts as spyware" is quite a hot button. So I decided I'd comparing how antispyware vendors count spyware myself. I also decided to forego formal, methodical testing. Instead, I would "inspect my system for spyware" the way an average consumer might. The one test area where I did impose some rigor was the method of infection. Under normal circumstances, they do not distribute spyware samples.

I began with a laptop running a clean install of Windows XP SP2 and downloaded ten "free antispyware scanners" at random. I installed each scanner and disabled any active protection provided by the product. I ran a full system scan from each scanner to be certain they all detected no spyware. This in itself was an interesting exercise, as several products identified competing products as scamware; humorously, some products point accusing fingers at each other. Adjusting for this behavior proved non-trivial. I didn't want to remove the scamware because I was fairly confident these products would help me prove my point.


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Moreover, I was only interested in obtaining coarse measures, so I simply added the counts of scamware detected to the total counts. This was a very informal test so I do not intend to publish the product names nor the results. Suffice to say that the range in the numbers of spyware infections reported was between 14 and By my count, the number should have been At the high end, I suspected several false positives but it was evident from the way the scan results were presented that the objective were to deceive and persuade the consumer to purchase the product.

Spread Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt and ye shall profit. Now that I had a basis for comparison, what conclusions could I draw? The first is that raw numbers of spyware detected are deceiving. Without standards for what constitutes one 1 spyware infection, it's impossible to say whether one scanner is superior to another. Without certification to assure that products comply with such standards and hence compete on a level field, deception is too often rewarded: unsophisticated users can easily be misled or frightened into purchasing products that claim to detect the most spyware.

Lastly, new spyware appears frequently, and existing spyware is morphed to evade detection even more frequently. Spyware can collect almost any type of data, including personal information like internet surfing habits, user logins, and bank or credit account information. Spyware can also interfere with a user's control of a computer by installing additional software or redirecting web browsers.

Some spyware can change computer settings, which can result in slow Internet connection speeds, un-authorized changes in browser settings, or changes to software settings. Sometimes, spyware is included along with genuine software, and may come from a malicious website or may have been added to the intentional functionality of genuine software see the paragraph about Facebook , below. In response to the emergence of spyware, a small industry has sprung up dealing in anti-spyware software.

Running anti-spyware software has become a widely recognized element of computer security practices, especially for computers running Microsoft Windows. A number of jurisdictions have passed anti-spyware laws, which usually target any software that is surreptitiously installed to control a user's computer.

In German-speaking countries, spyware used or made by the government is called govware by computer experts in common parlance: Regierungstrojaner , literally "Government Trojan". Govware is typically a trojan horse software used to intercept communications from the target computer.

Some countries, like Switzerland and Germany, have a legal framework governing the use of such software. Use of the term "spyware" has eventually declined as the practice of tracking users has been pushed ever further into the mainstream by major websites and data mining companies; these generally break no known laws and compel users to be tracked, not by fraudulent practices per se , but by the default settings created for users and the language of terms-of-service agreements.

The report stated: "Here's how it works. You go to Facebook, you log in, you spend some time there, and then Let's say the next site you go to is New York Times.

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Those buttons, without you clicking on them, have just reported back to Facebook and Twitter that you went there and also your identity within those accounts. Let's say you moved on to something like a site about depression. This one also has a tweet button, a Google widget, and those, too, can report back who you are and that you went there.

Spyware does not necessarily spread in the same way as a virus or worm because infected systems generally do not attempt to transmit or copy the software to other computers. Instead, spyware installs itself on a system by deceiving the user or by exploiting software vulnerabilities.

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Most spyware is installed without knowledge, or by using deceptive tactics. Spyware may try to deceive users by bundling itself with desirable software. Other common tactics are using a Trojan horse , spy gadgets that look like normal devices but turn out to be something else, such as a USB Keylogger. These devices actually are connected to the device as memory units but are capable of recording each stroke made on the keyboard. Some spyware authors infect a system through security holes in the Web browser or in other software. When the user navigates to a Web page controlled by the spyware author, the page contains code which attacks the browser and forces the download and installation of spyware.

The installation of spyware frequently involves Internet Explorer. Its popularity and history of security issues have made it a frequent target.


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Its deep integration with the Windows environment make it susceptible to attack into the Windows operating system. Internet Explorer also serves as a point of attachment for spyware in the form of Browser Helper Objects , which modify the browser's behavior. A spyware rarely operates alone on a computer; an affected machine usually has multiple infections. Users frequently notice unwanted behavior and degradation of system performance.

A spyware infestation can create significant unwanted CPU activity, disk usage, and network traffic. Stability issues, such as applications freezing, failure to boot, and system-wide crashes are also common. Spyware, which interferes with networking software commonly causes difficulty connecting to the Internet.

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In some infections, the spyware is not even evident. Users assume in those situations that the performance issues relate to faulty hardware, Windows installation problems, or another malware infection. Some owners of badly infected systems resort to contacting technical support experts, or even buying a new computer because the existing system "has become too slow". Badly infected systems may require a clean reinstallation of all their software in order to return to full functionality. Some spyware disables or even removes competing spyware programs, on the grounds that more spyware-related annoyances increase the likelihood that users will take action to remove the programs.

Keyloggers are sometimes part of malware packages downloaded onto computers without the owners' knowledge. Some keylogger software is freely available on the internet, while others are commercial or private applications. Most keyloggers allow not only keyboard keystrokes to be captured, they also are often capable of collecting screen captures from the computer. A typical Windows user has administrative privileges , mostly for convenience.

Because of this, any program the user runs has unrestricted access to the system. As with other operating systems , Windows users are able to follow the principle of least privilege and use non- administrator accounts. Alternatively, they can reduce the privileges of specific vulnerable Internet-facing processes , such as Internet Explorer. Since Windows Vista is, by default, a computer administrator that runs everything under limited user privileges, when a program requires administrative privileges, a User Account Control pop-up will prompt the user to allow or deny the action.

This improves on the design used by previous versions of Windows. As the spyware threat has evolved, a number of techniques have emerged to counteract it. These include programs designed to remove or block spyware, as well as various user practices which reduce the chance of getting spyware on a system. Nonetheless, spyware remains a costly problem. When a large number of pieces of spyware have infected a Windows computer, the only remedy may involve backing up user data, and fully reinstalling the operating system. Many programmers and some commercial firms have released products dedicated to remove or block spyware.

In it was renamed Windows Defender. Major anti-virus firms such as Symantec , PC Tools , McAfee and Sophos have also added anti-spyware features to their existing anti-virus products. Early on, anti-virus firms expressed reluctance to add anti-spyware functions, citing lawsuits brought by spyware authors against the authors of web sites and programs which described their products as "spyware". However, recent versions of these major firms home and business anti-virus products do include anti-spyware functions, albeit treated differently from viruses.

Symantec Anti-Virus, for instance, categorizes spyware programs as "extended threats" and now offers real-time protection against these threats. Such programs inspect the contents of the Windows registry , operating system files, and installed programs , and remove files and entries which match a list of known spyware. Real-time protection from spyware works identically to real-time anti-virus protection: the software scans disk files at download time, and blocks the activity of components known to represent spyware.