Spyware which attacks affiliate networks places the spyware operator's affiliate tag on the user's activity — replacing any other tag, if there is one. The spyware operator is the only party that gains from this. The user has their choices thwarted, a legitimate affiliate loses revenue, networks' reputations are injured, and vendors are harmed by having to pay out affiliate revenues to an "affiliate" who is not party to a contract. As a result, spyware operators such as Solutions have been terminated from affiliate networks including LinkShare and ShareSale.
In one case, spyware has been closely associated with identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that Some copy-protection technologies have borrowed from spyware. In , Sony BMG Music Entertainment was found to be using rootkits in its XCP digital rights management technology  Like spyware, not only was it difficult to detect and uninstall, it was so poorly written that most efforts to remove it could have rendered computers unable to function. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit,  and three separate class-action suits were filed.
While the main purpose of this deliberately uninstallable application is to ensure the copy of Windows on the machine was lawfully purchased and installed, it also installs software that has been accused of " phoning home " on a daily basis, like spyware.
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Stalkerware is spyware that has been used to monitor electronic activities of partners in intimate relationships. At least one software package, Loverspy, was specifically marketed for this purpose. Anti-spyware programs often report Web advertisers' HTTP cookies , the small text files that track browsing activity, as spyware. While they are not always inherently malicious, many users object to third parties using space on their personal computers for their business purposes, and many anti-spyware programs offer to remove them.
These common spyware programs illustrate the diversity of behaviors found in these attacks. Note that as with computer viruses, researchers give names to spyware programs which may not be used by their creators. Programs may be grouped into "families" based not on shared program code, but on common behaviors, or by "following the money" of apparent financial or business connections. For instance, a number of the spyware programs distributed by Claria are collectively known as "Gator". Likewise, programs that are frequently installed together may be described as parts of the same spyware package, even if they function separately.
The first recorded use of the term spyware occurred on October 16, in a Usenet post that poked fun at Microsoft 's business model. According to a study by AOL and the National Cyber-Security Alliance, 61 percent of surveyed users' computers were infected with form of spyware. Computers on which Internet Explorer IE is the primary browser are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, not only because IE is the most widely used,  but because its tight integration with Windows allows spyware access to crucial parts of the operating system.
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Spyware can exploit this design to circumvent attempts at removal. The spyware typically will link itself from each location in the registry that allows execution. Once running, the spyware will periodically check if any of these links are removed. If so, they will be automatically restored.
This ensures that the spyware will execute when the operating system is booted, even if some or most of the registry links are removed. Malicious programmers have released a large number of rogue fake anti-spyware programs, and widely distributed Web banner ads can warn users that their computers have been infected with spyware, directing them to purchase programs which do not actually remove spyware—or else, may add more spyware of their own. The recent [update] proliferation of fake or spoofed antivirus products that bill themselves as antispyware can be troublesome.
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Users may receive popups prompting them to install them to protect their computer, when it will in fact add spyware. This software is called rogue software. It is recommended that users do not install any freeware claiming to be anti-spyware unless it is verified to be legitimate. Some known offenders include:. Fake antivirus products constitute 15 percent of all malware.
On January 26, , Microsoft and the Washington state attorney general filed suit against Secure Computer for its Spyware Cleaner product. Unauthorized access to a computer is illegal under computer crime laws, such as the U. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act , the U. Since owners of computers infected with spyware generally claim that they never authorized the installation, a prima facie reading would suggest that the promulgation of spyware would count as a criminal act.
Law enforcement has often pursued the authors of other malware, particularly viruses. However, few spyware developers have been prosecuted, and many operate openly as strictly legitimate businesses, though some have faced lawsuits. Spyware producers argue that, contrary to the users' claims, users do in fact give consent to installations. Spyware that comes bundled with shareware applications may be described in the legalese text of an end-user license agreement EULA.
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Many users habitually ignore these purported contracts, but spyware companies such as Claria say these demonstrate that users have consented. Despite the ubiquity of EULAs agreements, under which a single click can be taken as consent to the entire text, relatively little caselaw has resulted from their use. It has been established in most common law jurisdictions that this type of agreement can be a binding contract in certain circumstances.
Some jurisdictions, including the U. Such laws make it illegal for anyone other than the owner or operator of a computer to install software that alters Web-browser settings, monitors keystrokes, or disables computer-security software.
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In the United States, lawmakers introduced a bill in entitled the Internet Spyware Prevention Act , which would imprison creators of spyware. The US Federal Trade Commission has sued Internet marketing organizations under the " unfairness doctrine "  to make them stop infecting consumers' PCs with spyware. In one case, that against Seismic Entertainment Productions, the FTC accused the defendants of developing a program that seized control of PCs nationwide, infected them with spyware and other malicious software, bombarded them with a barrage of pop-up advertising for Seismic's clients, exposed the PCs to security risks, and caused them to malfunction.
Seismic then offered to sell the victims an "antispyware" program to fix the computers, and stop the popups and other problems that Seismic had caused. From Anywhere. The case is still in its preliminary stages. It applied fines in total value of Euro 1,, for infecting 22 million computers. The spyware concerned is called DollarRevenue. The law articles that have been violated are art.
The hijacking of Web advertisements has also led to litigation. In June , a number of large Web publishers sued Claria for replacing advertisements, but settled out of court. Courts have not yet had to decide whether advertisers can be held liable for spyware that displays their ads. In many cases, the companies whose advertisements appear in spyware pop-ups do not directly do business with the spyware firm. Rather, they have contracted with an advertising agency , which in turn contracts with an online subcontractor who gets paid by the number of "impressions" or appearances of the advertisement.
Some major firms such as Dell Computer and Mercedes-Benz have sacked advertising agencies that have run their ads in spyware. Litigation has gone both ways. Since "spyware" has become a common pejorative , some makers have filed libel and defamation actions when their products have been so described. In , Gator now known as Claria filed suit against the website PC Pitstop for describing its program as "spyware". In the WebcamGate case, plaintiffs charged two suburban Philadelphia high schools secretly spied on students by surreptitiously and remotely activating webcams embedded in school-issued laptops the students were using at home, and therefore infringed on their privacy rights.
The school loaded each student's computer with LANrev 's remote activation tracking software. This included the now-discontinued "TheftTrack". While TheftTrack was not enabled by default on the software, the program allowed the school district to elect to activate it, and to choose which of the TheftTrack surveillance options the school wanted to enable. TheftTrack allowed school district employees to secretly remotely activate the webcam embedded in the student's laptop, above the laptop's screen.
That allowed school officials to secretly take photos through the webcam, of whatever was in front of it and in its line of sight, and send the photos to the school's server. The LANrev software disabled the webcams for all other uses e. In addition to webcam surveillance, TheftTrack allowed school officials to take screenshots, and send them to the school's server. In addition, LANrev allowed school officials to take snapshots of instant messages, web browsing, music playlists, and written compositions. The schools admitted to secretly snapping over 66, webshots and screenshots , including webcam shots of students in their bedrooms.
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