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Spyware: The NEW scourge of the Internet

Spyware. It's everywhere. From nifty-sounding programs such as Crescendo, RealPlayer, BonziBuddy, and Gator, to programs that will give you loads of smileys to spice up your E-mails or chat sessions, let's face it -- there are a plethora of potential sources for spyware.

What does spyware do, you ask? Well, spyware is a piece of software that snoops around your computer reporting back to its creator or creators via the internet. It gathers specific information about you and your machine. This snooping takes place all the time, whenever your machine is connected to the net. All this, behind your back, and without your knowledge or permission. Sounds sinister, huh?

What nasty things can spyware do? Well, in almost all cases, spyware usually slows down your computer, making it take longer to process certain tasks that used to be a breeze for it, as if your computer was also trying to ponder the meaning of life at the same time. While it's normal to run across occasional popup advertisements on the Internet, some spyware will cause your computer to display more popup windows than usual, forcing you to take time to close them. Others are in the form of keystroke loggers, which will report everything you type into your computer to the creator of the spyware, including such private information as your credit card or social security numbers.

I could go on forever about all the nasty things spyware can do, as the list is long. But again, you can very easily protect yourself for free by downloading a copy of AdAware and Spybot Search & Destroy. Both of these programs are free as well as considered among the best spyware detection and removal programs available on the Internet, according to SpywareWarrior.com.

Another thing you can do to protect yourself is to change web browsers. It's very widely known that Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser and Outlook Express E-mail client are full of security holes that leave you wide open to the potential for spyware. In fact, the situation is so bad that some computer security experts have said that Internet Explorer has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, and that even the federal government is urging people to stop using Internet Explorer. The solution? Switch to Mozilla Firefox. Firefox is a browser that has been around for only about two years or so, yet it is rapidly gaining in popularity due to it being a much more secure browser than Internet Explorer. Firefox has even earned the endorsement of I.T. professionals that hold the prestigious Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification. Also, if you are a Macintosh or Linux user, Firefox is also available for those platforms, too.

If you're accustomed to using an E-mail client such as Outlook Express, Firefox also has a companion E-mail client of its own called Thunderbird. Just like Firefox, it too is just a free download away, and, like Firefox, is also available for the Mac as well as for Linux. If you use Windows, you are strongly encouraged to download and install Anti-Vir, Firefox, and Thunderbird. Your computer will thank you for it.