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History of Internet Security

By 2000, a new type of threat was infecting our beloved computing devices–spyware.

With the dotcom bubble bursting and spewing financial losses all over everyone (yuck), you’d think that spyware wouldn’t be such a big deal. But it was new. And new is always interesting. Oh, and it meant that more money would be made. Long live capitalism!

I could just regurgitate the “History of Spyware” articles on the Net but instead I’ll quote a Lavasoft support page. Lavasoft is a Swedish based company founded (by Germans) in 1999 and was one of the first companies in the history of Internet security to produce antispyware software. Theirs is named Ad-Aware. They are still one of the best around.

“Virtually everyone with a computer has now heard of spyware, but where and when did it rear its ugly head for the first time? Here is a little history…

The word ‘spyware’ was used for the first time publicly in October 1995. It popped up on Usenet (a distributed Internet discussion system in which users post e-mail like messages) in an article aimed at Microsoft’s business model. In the years that followed though, spyware often referred to ‘snoop equipment’ such as tiny, hidden cameras. It re-appeared in a news release for a personal firewall product in early 2000, marking the beginning of the modern usage of the word.

In 1999, Steve Gibson of Gibson Research detected advertising software on his computer and suspected it was actually stealing his confidential information. The so-called adware had been covertly installed and was difficult to remove, so he decided to counter-attack and develop the first ever anti-spyware program, OptOut.

That’s where Lavasoft picked up and Gibson left off. He went on to other projects and Lavasoft became a pioneer in the anti-spyware industry with its signature free, downloadable product Ad-Aware. Lavasoft’s paid products soon followed and it is now the anti-spyware provider for 300 million computer users worldwide today.”


In the history of Internet security, spyware and its ugly little sister, adware, also fall under the malware heading if they have malicious intent.

It all started with pop up windows. Oh sure, they were novel and harmless at first. We stared in awe at our monitors at the shiny ads. But then another one popped up, then another, and another.

And then we started to wonder if these things were breeding. My monitor became a pop up petri dish! For those old enough to remember the most popular Star Trek episode of all time, “The Trouble With Tribbles”, was starting to feel very familiar. These annoying things persist today and all kinds of software has been made to block them.

Microsoft (who incidentally is part of the New World Order, I’m just not sure how yet) released the infamous Internet Explorer web browser. Then, in their infinite wisdom, they created the BHO, Browser Helper Object.

This fancy feature allowed other programs to do anything the browser could do such as install a virus or infect your PC with spyware. Usually a program did this by presenting you with a pop up window and tricked you into clicking on it. Then, BAM, now you need antispyware software.

Have you seen the pop ups that look like official Windows messages like this?

Yeah, you shouldn’t click on that–it’s spyware. It probably won’t be this obvious though.

Technically, in the history of Internet security, these early spyware threats were adware. They didn’t necessarily do bad things; they just try to sell you something most of the time.

But where there’s smoke, there’s fire and some unseemly types just couldn’t resist using pop ups to infect you with something nasty along the way. The history of Internet security is full of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nowadays, we have drive by installs. All you have to do is VISIT a site to get infected. Great, huh? They just get better and better.

Spyware doesn’t usually replicate itself like a virus. It’s main purpose is to, well, spy on you. But it goes further than that. Spyware can and does the following:

change your home page
re-direct you to gambling or porn sites
change privacy and security settings
install dozens of bookmarks or shortcuts you didn’t ask for
logs the web sites you visit for the purpose of presenting targeted ads to you
uses up many of your system’s resources
steal your user and password info for banking and merchants
lots of other unwanted stuff

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