No, webWiz isn't going into another diatribe on antivirus software. It's more insidious this time: some marketing-types with no respect for privacy and trust decided some time ago to break that trust by secretly gaining information about us. In many cases, this was achieved through offers of free software which also installed what's now come to be known as "spyware".
If you're wondering just how many pieces of spyware there are, visit Spychecker or the Spyware infected software site. The latter lists over 800 pieces of spyware (as of early March).
One simple tool to detect and remove spyware is Ad-aware - it's free and only a small download from www.lavasoft.de. After downloading and installing, Ad-aware found several cookies that it removed because they could be used to track webWiz's site visits and so build up a potential marketing profile. These are some of the spyware that Ad-aware detects and removes:
Adware, Alexa, Aureat, Comet Cursor, Cydoor, DoubleClick, DSSAgent, EverAd, Flyswat, Gator, OnFlow, TimeSink, Web3000, Webhancer
After coping with the insidious marketing-types, there are all those kiddy-hackers who want to "have fun" by attempting to break into your computer when you're online. Cable and ADSL users are most vulnerable to attacks from these types because the kiddy-hackers have to first find IP addresses of online computers. Modem dial-up users aren't as vulnerable because each time you dial into your ISP a different IP address is assigned to your computer.
Fortunately there are now several free privacy suites and firewalls available to give you protection against the kiddy-hackers. Refer to this week's sites for several free applications. If you have a network of just a few computers, where file and print sharing is enabled, you really should have a firewall such as ZoneAlarm installed.