By
CNBC
updated 4/22/2003 8:55:41 AM ET 2003-04-22T12:55:41

Your employer may not want you surfing the Net just because it means you’re not working. You may be dragging along your path all kinds of crud, programs downloaded onto your computers which spy on what you’re doing, cluttering up your hard drive, even taking over your Web settings.

IT’S CALLED “SPYWARE,” programs that track your moves on the Web. Most of it is innocuous, so-called cookies that just see where you go and tailor advertising accordingly. But some of it is more nefarious, inundating you with pop-ads that never cease, or actually taking note of your personal information and selling it to someone else.

“What happens for most people is they’re downloading something, say on a peer-to-peer network, downloading a game, and these other programs come along with it, they piggyback along,” said Michael Miller, editor in chief of PC Magazine. “They install sort of in secret, you may not even realize you’re installing (them).”

Some services will not download onto your computer unless you take the spyware with them, and we found that even file-sharing services like Limewire which say they are spyware free, often have fine print in the user agreements that say “some of our business partners may use cookies on our site.”

PC Magazine did an extensive survey on just how prevalent spyware is.

“We found far more spyware than we expected,” Miller said.

The magazine’s lab then tested several programs that promise to get rid of spyware.

And while no solution was perfect, the best of the lot, in their opinion, was Spybot Search and Destroy.

You can download the Spybot’s software free on the Internet, ( http://security.kolla.de/) although the authors do ask that you pay a small donation.

(The program can also be found at many download sites, including CNET’s.)

The program found 32 problems on this reporter’s PC, including ones called “Alexa Related,” and “DSO Exploit.”

It turns out Alexa Related is something on Internet Explorer which tracks where you’re going and suggests other Web sites to visit. DSO Exploit has greater potential to be a problem, exploiting a loophole in Internet Explorer’s security to grab information about you, a loophole that Microsoft may have since patched.

After searching, Spybot can then destroy these programs.

The next day, Spybot notified me when it had blocked a potential problem program.

You would expect to see lots of spyware on the computers of people who spend time swapping music and other files on the Internet. But Esther Cohen is no college-age Napster aficionado.

Cohen is so distrustful of the Internet she’s never made a single purchase on it and she did not expect to find spyware on her PC. But when we ran the same program on Cohen’s computer at work, to her surprise her computer was full of spyware.

But perhaps no total escape is possible. As soon as I’d finished installing Spybot and cleaned my computer, I started seeing pop-ads promoting other security software.

Need some tips for avoiding spyware? Know what you’re downloading, read those user agreements and use a program to occasionally clean things out.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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