Computer users are well aware of spyware. It is usually installed on a computer without the user’s consent or even knowledge and can cause problems ranging from constant pop-up ads to ruining a computer.

Federal regulators are finally cracking down on this growing problem. The Federal Trade Commission is working to shut down a company it says secretly downloaded spyware onto the computers of Internet users. The FTC claims the company promised free software, but people’s computers were also infected with spyware when they downloaded the software.

The FTC says the company used a spyware program that spawned downloads of other programs, tracked users movement online and directed them to fake search engines. The company denies the charge.

But computer users across the country can cheer this investigation. Pop-up ads and other forms of spam can be not only a major headache for computer owners, but can be expensive and time consuming to fix.

Spyware is software that can be installed over the Web or can come with other software and downloaded unknowingly by the computer user.

It is time for anti-spyware legislation. The House has already passed such legislation and the Senate is now considering a bill by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. Much of the spyware comes from overseas companies, and the legislation would make it easier for the FTC to work with foreign law enforcement on the problem.

There also must be very harsh penalties for those convicted of this kind of computer crime. Losing a business is just the first step. There must be steep fines and mandatory jail terms to end this epidemic.

With strong anti-spyware laws behind it, the FTC could go hard after these con artists and help bring an end to this problem.

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