Currently, there is no specific legal definition on the term “spyware” but according to Pew & Internet Life Project (P&ILP), spyware usually refers to “certain software programs that can be installed on a person’s computer without their explicit consent either by ‘piggy- backing’ onto a file or program the person downloads from the internet or just by visiting a particular Web site. These programs can keep track of a person’s Internet habits and the sites they visit, and can transmit this information back to a central source”.
On the other hand, the term “adware” is commonly used to define the software that creates pop-up advertisement windows and that secretly track the user’s Internet surfing habits and reports such information to third parties over the Internet. P&ILP mentions that “these programs can keep track of a person’s internet habits and the sites they visit, and can use that information to provide targeted advertising on the person’s computer without his awareness and the consumer is often bundled with free software such as games, screensaver or file-sharing programs on his computer.”
P&ILP states in its 2005 report that “68% of home internet users, or about 93 million American adults, have experienced at least one of these problems in the past year, and four in ten Internet users have had spyware, adware or both in their computers.”
A report by Webroot Software Inc. estimates that spyware generates about $2.4 billion US dollars in annual revenue in the United States alone. Since the start of 2005, the number of Internet sites installing unwanted software has quadrupled to 300,000 – with the U.S. serving as the country with the most purveyors, nearly half of all spy software originates in the US.
Some of the most common symptoms of spyware on a computer usually consist on: (i) slow-down of the operative system while opening or saving documents in the hard drive; (ii) slow performance of the keyboard and other primary hardware functions; (iii) sudden or repeated changes in the toolbars and new and unexpected icons; (iv) changes on the Internet home page and in the list of favorite sites of the browser; (v) pop up windows & unsolicited advertisement; and (vi) automatic download and installation of software programs.
Spyware raises privacy and security issues for consumers because it can monitor and collect personal information; turn computers into remote-controlled spam generators (zombie networks) and impair the normal operation and performance of computer systems. Spyware can also lead to identity theft schemes and other types of cybercrime. However, there is no single solution to stop this growing Internet threat. Legislation alone will not curb or diminish this problematic because most spyware creators are located in countries where legislation is hard to enforce and particularly because it is very difficult for law enforcement agencies to track down criminal activity and enforce foreign law in other jurisdictions in addition that it is extremely difficult to know the exact source from where and how the spyware has been disseminated. The best solution to avoid spyware is at the user level, in other words, through a combination of technologies and prevention & awareness solutions such as the use of anti-spyware software and follow-up tips & recommendations and inform others about its disruptive effects.
NACPEC has created this section with the purpose to provide our visitors with the most relevant sources of information, documents, legislation, cases, organizations, publications, and links on spyware and adware.