Bill to Make Spyware Illegal
"Everybody has some spyware on their computer, almost everybody," said computer analyst Matt Nichols. "The exceptions are rare."
If you download a new screen-saver from a website, it's possible your download includes spyware which keeps track of websites you visit and personal information you give to Internet companies.
Nichols diagnoses computers infected with spyware. On one computer, he found 1,105 different spyware files and 28 viruses.
"Our top score for a single computer would be 14,666," he added.
Spyware is more common than a computer virus, and it's just as contagious.
"Once you get a little bit of spyware, it doesn't take long before you end up with a whole bunch more that's being downloaded in the background," explained Nichols. "You don't even know it's going on."
Spyware installs unwanted software onto your computer when you click on an ad or download features from a company website.
"You could just be cruising the Internet and get an ad from the wrong place just by happenstance," Nichols said.
The bill before Missouri lawmakers would crack down on those companies by making spyware illegal.
The problem is so bad technicians check through many computers for spyware, because it's malicious software that runs in the background, so it's a problem you can't always see.
MU protects its computer network with anti-spyware software. Brandon Hough of Information and Access Technology Services says a law could help.
"Eventually, there will be a price to pay for those sorts of things," Hough said. "And that's what will get the message out to the hacker industry, so to speak, to stop doing this."
Nichols added, "Anything they could do would help, because the problem's just exploded."
The most obvious sign your computer may have spyware is taking a long time to start up or shut down.
The best way to protect your computer is to run anti-spyware software once a week and scan for problems. There are also several businesses that can help if you can't fix it.