If you've ever wondered why you're bombarded with pop-up ads every time you go online, no matter what website you visit; or why you're suddenly getting dozens of unsolicited e-mails about things you wouldn't want your kids to even know about, let alone see on your computer; or why your brand-new computer is running slower than the old one you handed down to Junior, the answer could be "spyware," or in more polite circles, "adware."

Spyware makes use of an existing "back door" (or "backchannel") on your computer, allowing marketers, software companies, and hackers to look over your shoulder whenever you're connected to the Internet. That's bad enough, but think about the sensitive project data you have stored on that computer. Names, addresses, credit...

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