Hook: Runs at Boot
Some programs hook themselves in to your computer’s operating system so that they automatically run whenever the computer is rebooted or a user logs in. Other programs don’t. Today there’s no way to tell except by performing a detailed analysis of the computer’s configuration files before and after the program is installed and noting the changes. Any program that installs itself so that it automatically runs would have to display this Hook icon.

  Dial: Places a Phone Call
One common spyware scam involves programs that cause your computer to call phone numbers that cost you money. For example, a few years ago some pornographic websites distributed a program called david.exe that caused the victim’s computer to make a long-distance phone call to an Internet service provider in Eastern Europe; the porn company got to keep half of the (exorbitantly high) long distance revenues. Other kinds of scam software might dial 900-numbers or even use your computer to send junk faxes without your knowledge. Documenting that the software has code that could make it dial your phone would be a good way to address this problem.

  Modify: Alters Your Computer’s Operating System
Some programs do more than simply install themselves to run at boot-they alter your computer’s operating system. Seeing this icon would give you a reason to ask questions. More likely, forcing this kind of disclosure would simply end the practice on the part of developers.

  Monitor: Keeps Track of What You’re Doing
Most programs mind their own business. But some software watches your keystrokes and monitors the Web pages you are viewing even as other programs run in the foreground. Programs can watch as you create files, make copies of every document that’s printed, or simply note when your computer is idle and when it’s in use. The key here is that personal information is being captured by a program when you think that it’s not listening. Perhaps this icon might incorporate a lightening bolt to indicate that the monitored information is reported back over the Internet to someone else.

  Displays Pop-Ups
A well-mannered program speaks only when spoken to. Some programs, on the other hand, demand your attention. I was astonished the other day when Microsoft Word 2003 popped a window up on my computer inviting me to participate in some kind of survey. A few years ago I noticed that an electronic wallet program called Gator was opening up windows to competing websites whenever I visited certain online merchants.

  Remote Control: Lets Other Programs Take Over Your Computer
In theory, any program that’s running on your computer can take it over and execute commands on the part of others. In practice, only very few programs have the ability to offer others such remote control. Programs that do so should be labeled.

 

Self-Updates: This Program May Change Its Behavior
One of the most important techniques for software vendors to deal with persistent computer security problems is to have their programs automatically update themselves with code downloaded from the Internet. Programs that have this feature should advertise that capability, because they can change their behavior without any input from the user.

  Stuck: Cannot be Uninstalled
Some programs, once installed in your computer, are impossible to dislodge. These programs are typically operating system updates, but it is easy for a clever programmer to make uninstallable spyware as well. Consumers should be informed that there are some programs for which there is no going back.