Spyware is software that covertly gathers a computer user’s information through an active internet connection without their knowledge. Spyware applications are typically bundled into freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the internet, however, most of these downloadable programs are clean and not infected with this type of virus.
Once installed, spyware typically monitors the activity of the user and sends data back to the creator of the spyware program, without notifying the user whatsoever. The type of data that is usually collected are usernames, passwords, emails and even credit card details.
Spyware is actually pretty similar to a Trojan Horse in the way that it gets onto the machine in the first place. The user unknowingly installs the program when installing something else.
Besides the questions of morality and privacy, spyware can use a considerable amount of the computer’s memory and bandwidth, due to it sending information back to base. This can, therefore, affect the computer’s performance by causing system crashes and reducing the reliability of the machine. This can then lead to further problems, with the possibility of hardware malfunction and loss of personal data.
Do you ever think about reading the licensing agreements when installing a program? I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t, typically they are very long winded, so most people haven’t got the time. It turns out that a lot of licensing agreements will actually state that spyware is going to be installed onto the PC and of course by agreeing to this, makes it hard for you to have any comeback whatsoever.
Shouldn’t my firewall detect this kind of software and prevent it from installing? Technically yes, it should, but if you give the software permission (by agreeing to the licensing terms) then the firewall will believe that the software is perfectly legitimate and that it has no plan to cause any harm to the system.
A lot spyware is actually pretty harmless and only used for advertising purposes. Have you ever installed a program and next minute your browser’s homepage has changed to MySearchBar or something similar? This is a prime example of spyware used for advertisement. Okay, it can be a bit of a nuisance but luckily it’s not the end of the world, in these instances your data isn’t usually being logged. Of course you wouldn’t be able to tell if your data is being logged or not, so it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry and to install a spyware removal tool to get rid of it anyway.
Companies have also been known to install fully functioning browsers (torch is a great example). These browsers are designed to look very similar to the market leaders (chrome, firefox and opera) so a lot of the time, the user won’t even realise that they are actually searching within a completely different program. Again this could only be for advertisement purposes but we say this is far too risky, once you’re using an executable program, it has the potential to do a lot of dangerous things, from keylogging (capturing keyboard strokes to occupy passwords etc.) to system crashes.