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Spyware: Background and Policy Issues for Congress

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Congressional rept.

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The term spyware generally refers to any software that is downloaded onto a computer without the owners or users knowledge. Spyware may collect information about a computer users activities and transmit that information to someone else. It may change computer settings, or cause pop-up advertisements to appear in that context, it is called adware. Spyware may redirect a Web browser to a site different from what the user intended to visit, or change the users home page. A type of spyware called keylogging software records individual keystrokes, even if the author modifies or deletes what was written, or if the characters do not appear on the monitor. Thus, passwords, credit card numbers, and other personally identifiable information may be captured and relayed to unauthorized recipients. Some of these software programs have legitimate applications the computer user wants. They obtain the moniker spyware when they are installed surreptitiously, or perform additional functions of which the user is unaware. Users typically do not realize that spyware is on their computer. They may have unknowingly downloaded it from the Internet by clicking within a website, or it might have been included in an attachment to an electronic mail message e-mail or embedded in other software. The Federal Trade Commission FTC issued a consumer alert on spyware in October 2004. It provided a list of warning signs that might indicate that a computer is infected with spyware, and advice on what to do if it is. Additionally, the FTC has consumer information on spyware that includes a link to file a complaint with the commission through its OnGuard Online website. Several states have passed spyware laws, but there is no specific federal law and no legislation has been introduced thus far in the 111th Congress.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law
  • Computer Programming and Software

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