The CPTC Tech Support group is seeing a sharp increase in the number of computers on campus with Spyware installed on them. This is the result of downloading and installing "free" software for games, "smiley" faces, greeting cards, toolbars, wallpaper, desktop themes... etc.
The problem with this "free" software is that it isn't free. It is in fact part of a growing problem:
Adware: Software that's offered for free download. The producer then gets paid by advertisers who use the software to deliver banner and pop-up ads to computer users. Adware slows network response and uses up disk storage space on your computer. This forces the college to spend funds on network and computer upgrades. (Up to 60% of the traffic on parts of the Internet is advertising related.)So how do you tell what's spyware and what's not? How can you tell what's safe to download and what's not? That's the good part.
Spyware: Software that's offered for free download. The software sends information about the user (Account names, passwords, credit card numbers, bank account numbers... etc. Anything that's keyed in.) back to the producer who uses the information to try to charge purchases to the user's credit card, or withdraw money from the user's bank account, or commit other frauds.
Even an experienced programmer or analyst would be hard pressed to determine if a particular download program had a spyware component. Only after through monitoring or testing could that determination be made. The average computer user does not have access to the necessary resources.
Beyond the spyware issue, most of these programs don't go through quality assurance and compatibility testing, so they frequently will causing computers to lock up or crash. Once it's installed, cleaning up Spyware off of a single computer can take over an hour for each PC.
Finally, downloading software to a college computer can expose confidential student and faculty data. If your computer is ever used to store or access confidential information, grades, etc. You May Not Install Unauthorized Software. The risk to the college of exposure or loss is too great.
So, no matter how enticing some download looks, if you get a screen like this:
Always, ALWAYS click the "No" button.
If it says "Security Warning" in the top, and "Do you want to install and run..." in the middle, click your mouse on the "No" button only. Do not agree to the download.
Spyware also causes the college technical support problems. Several of our technicians have commented they are having to spend more and more time dealing with problems caused by downloaded software. When this happens they can't respond to legitimate service calls as quickly as they otherwise could.
We do have tools that will remove downloaded software and repair the damage it does to the computer, but it would be much better if the software wasn't downloaded in the first place. The tools that assist the removal of Adware and Spyware are Ad-Aware, Spy Sweeper and Spybot.
We are referring specifically here to Adware and Spyware. We have always supported legitimate software applications and browser plugins. Supported plugins include Java, QuickTime, Flash, ShockWave, RealPlayer and Adobe among others. If anyone needs a browser plugin the Helpdesk is available to provide assistance with installation.
Adware and spyware are not legitimate. A computer that has been disabled by adware or spyware cannot be used to participate in any instructional activity. If anyone gets a screen like the one shown above, and you are not 100% certain that particular download is NOT adware or spyware then DO NOT install it. If you need assistance, please contact the Helpdesk.
Please be a responsible computer user. Protect yourself from fraud, and your computer from failure. Do not download free software to a college computer.