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Computerized Investing > January/February 2004

Editor's Outlook

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by John Bajkowski

While individuals are frequently warned about threats from computer viruses and hackers, so-called “tracking” software can be equally troublesome to your system. My home computer was recently infected by a slew of “spyware” objects that were installed while my son was exploring a Star Wars Web site and playing some on-line games. Suddenly, I had hidden programs tracking my activities and even secretly recording my keystrokes as I was filling out Web forms.

There are two types of programs that do this—adware and spyware. Adware is software that’s included with programs that are free because they require you to look at advertisements. These free programs are often games, music playback software or weather reporting software. The licensing agreement that most users accept without reading provides permission for the ad-supported software to collect and report on some statistical information in exchange for the free use of the program. When you install the free application, the adware component is also installed. The adware then collects information such as which Web sites you visit and sends that information back to the advertiser.

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