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Is your PC watching you? Find out!

PC World

By Steve Bass

(IDG) -- Are you sitting down? (Of course you are. I'm just trying to get you prepared. Now stay seated.) There are lots of desktop snoopware products that let anyone -- your snoopy boss, that dumb business partner who got the bigger office, and maybe even a loving spouse -- track your PC habits.

Even if you work from a home office, you may not be immune to spying. If you have a teenager at home, there's a good chance the brat knows more about the inner workings of your PC than you ever will. Just as dismaying, you may have a Trojan on your PC that's letting some hacker (also a bratty teenager) gain access to your PC.

I've rounded up a bunch of articles, software, and other stuff that'll help you understand the scope of the problem, and maybe circumvent the snoopers.

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First, I think it's important you get a little background on the problem.

Almost a year ago, Bill Wallace and Jamie Fenton tested four spyware products. Their reviews and explanations will give you an understanding of how these programs work and, toward the end of the story, how to detect them. If you have time to look over only one item I mention, "Is your PC watching you?" is the one; then read the countermeasures.

My Home Office column takes a different slant on the problem of spyware, as well as a few tools to defeat the programs. Read "Home Office: A counterespionage guide to spyware."

Dig this: You probably never realized that Britney Spears knows physics. No, really, she does. Okay, so you don't believe me? Check the site: the Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics.

Everyone's watching someone

A study by the Privacy Foundation claims employers are monitoring the Internet and e-mail use of 14 million employees. (It's no wonder your boss never gets anything accomplished, eh?) We have more on the study in "Employers increasingly monitor Web use, e-mail."

Your kids may not be immune from intrusions either. Last year Mattel covertly collected data from children's programs and sent it back to their servers. After a brouhaha with privacy advocates, they offered a way to remove it. Read about it on Salon's site.

Take a break: I wrote a short piece about hoaxes, myths, and urban legends surrounding the September 11 tragedy. It's "Tragedy triggers tall tales."

A while back I covered the spyware topic in "Secret tips for internet privacy," one of my online newsletters.

Even if spyware isn't on your PC, if you don't have the right OS patches -- or worse, buggy software -- you may be open to hackers monitoring your movements. Kim Zetter (our lucky senior associate editor who gets to attend all the cool hacker conventions) painstakingly researched "PC security: Holey software!" and I encourage you to read it.

Dig this: Have you had a Windows error message today? Trust me when I say there are many Windows error messages you don't want to see. This is one of them.

Lock down your PC

There are a few ways for you to keep the lid on your data. Depending on your situation, one of these strategies may do the trick.

If you want to keep your home PC from being used by coworkers and family members, read the first part of Kirk Steer's column, "Keep PC data safe from prying eyes -- and fingers." It explains what a CMOS password is and how to set it up.

Even more substantial is Stan Miastkowski's "Fortress PC" story. Stan is no slouch when it comes to guarding his PC from, as he says, "snoops, hackers, and viruses." The nine-part article is worth your time.

I saw the most dramatic example of a Trojan at a recent meeting of the Pasadena IBM Users Group, of which I'm president. Security expert Frank Keeney showed how a backdoor Trojan -- Back Orifice in this case -- could remotely control your PC without your knowledge. From his machine, Frank watched every key- and mouse stroke on my networked PC, and I wasn't aware of his presence.

My suggestion? Grab a copy of the free Back Orifice Detection Program. And while you're online, check the "More Security Files" section lower on that page.


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