You probably know this by now, but Microsoft is getting into the anti-spyware business. I, for one, am glad. I recently spent a couple of hours cleaning the spyware off my kids’ PC, and I came away from it wondering how users that don’t work with computers for a living cope with the deluge of crap that infects everyone’s systems these days. Actually, I know how they cope it: they pay companies to clean up their systems, they rely on friends who know a thing or about computers, and more often, they just live with the spyware, wondering why their systems run half as fast as they did a month ago.

One of my friends recently paid CompUSA to come to his home and disinfect his system. $160 later, he had a clean system, but within a few days, he (not surprisingly) was infected again. My neighbor across the street called me a few weeks ago and asked if I could help him out. One of his PCs was so slammed with popups that they came up faster than he could click them away. Last week we took a close look at the PCs in the computer lab at the school my kids attend. Those PCs were so loaded down with spyware that they were barely functional. It’s going to take time and money to clean them up. And then, within a few weeks, they’ll be infected again.

Something has to be done. It’s ridiculous that companies can install rogue software on your computer and stay (mostly) within the law when they do it. It’s not an easy problem to legislate away, because in many cases you (or your kids) unknowingly provide consent for the stuff to be installed. But somehow, some way, we need laws that require the jerks that install spyware to be very explicit about what they’re doing so you can make an informed decision about whether using the service or product they offer is worth what they do to your PC. Sure, not everyone will obey the law, but a few stiff prison sentences for those that don’t would set a wonderful example.

I run Ad-Aware regularly and was surprised by how soon after a cleanup my PC got reinfected with “tracking” cookies. I found a simple solution for IE 6.0 users: go to Tools->Internet Options->Privacy and use the advanced options there to configure IE to accept first-party cookies but block third-party cookies. (Be sure to check “Override automatic cookie handling“ and “Always allow session cookies,” too.) Now I rarely ever find a tracking cookie on my PC.

I just downloaded and installed Microsoft’s beta anti-spyware app and ran it for the first time. It found no malware on my box, so I ran Ad-Aware just to be sure. It also reported that my PC (actually, my laptop; I’m traveling this week) is clean. So I’ll reserve judgement on Microsoft’s software until I get a better feel for how thorough it is. Several reviewers, including Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, have complained that Microsoft’s anti-spyware tool is IE-centric. That doesn’t bother me, because IE is my primary browser.

As I get older, I grow continually more amazed at how many scumbags there are on the Internet. The relatively few spammers, virus writers, and spyware vendors out there have made life miserable for the millions of users that they prey upon. Hackers continually try to infiltrate and destroy networks. And as if that weren’t enough, now there’s comment spam, which this blog has recently become the target of. Is there no bottom to the lows that these people will stoop to?