Spyware is no longer just an irritant - it is becoming an increasingly pervasive tool for identity theft and financial fraud.
The Federal Trade Commission recently reached a $2 million settlement against two California companies and three individuals that had allegedly distributed malicious spyware to 18 million computer users worldwide ( http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2006/09/enternet.htm ).
Spyware will often disguise itself as a free download of music files, cell phone ring tones, photographs, software upgrades, or security patches. If a user is lured into accepting one of these downloads, malicious software which will track the user's Internet surfing habits or collect personal information is also installed. This software is often very difficult to remove.
Users need to maintain vigilance and be suspicious of any "free" downloads. It is essential that everyone use anti-spyware programs and keep them updated to protect their computer systems and their personal information.