Has your computer slowed down unexplainably? Do you see applications you didn't install - things like online gambling, or pornography dialers? You've got spyware. And finally, the government's trying to do something about this pesky, invasive software.
Calling it deceptive marketing, the Federal Trade Commission is going after what could be one of the internet's biggest users of spyware - hidden software that tracks consumer traffic on the internet, changes computer settings and triggers endless popup ads.
Lydia Parnes, Federal Trade Commission: "Today's case challenges the practices of Seismic Entertainment Productions Protection Incorporated, Smartbot.net and Sanford Wallace."
In the government's first spyware crackdown, the commission alleges the companies changed user home pages, sent popup ads, modified internet browsers and changed keyboard settings. And, the FTC says, the companies sent bogus warnings, telling the user their computer is infected with spyware and the company's software should be purchased to get rid of it.
"The defendants were selling software to fix the problem they just caused - my definition of on-line hutzpah."
The companies had no comment on the FTC's investigation, which was set off by hundreds of consumer complaints.
To avoid spyware, computer users should keep browser software up to date, install firewalls and don't click on links to popup windows. Install and use anti-spyware software from a reliable vendor - two industry standards are Ad-Aware, and Spybot Search and Destroy. Each will find things the other will not, so you might consider running both, at least once a week.