Spyware is defined as any program that secretly gathers information about you (or your computer use) through your Internet connection. Once installed, spyware programs monitor your activity on the Internet and give this information to interested parties, such as marketing firms. Spyware can also cause problems with your computer’s performance. A computer infected with spyware may slow to a crawl or even a complete halt, unable to perform the simplest of functions.
Spyware can come in many different forms:
Adware displays pop-up advertisements whenever an associated program is running. Let’s say, for example, that you download and install a free program. If the program came with adware embedded within the software, every time you use that program, you could see pop-up windows. As well as producing unwelcome pop-up windows, adware may also be tracking other information about you such as Web browsing habits, user names, passwords, and more.
These malicious programs are particularly dangerous, and can record almost everything you do on your computer, including email messages, chat room conversations, Web sites visited, and programs you run. They can even keep track of each individual key you press, which can help thieves snare your passwords and allow them to steal personal and financial information.
Trojan horses are malicious programs that pretend to be harmless or desirable. Their purpose is to steal or damage your computer data. Some Trojan horses allow an attacker to gain unrestricted access to your computer whenever you are online.
It is important to remember that not all programs that sound like spyware are harmful. Many are legitimate that help your Internet surfing by allowing a web site to keep track of the needs of its customers. Additionally, browser “cookies” can store personalized information for Web sites that you use frequently. The myYahoo start page is a good example of one such site. You can sign in to your myYahoo page, personalize the content, and your browser will store these settings in a “cookie” for the next time you visit the page.
A majority of spyware comes in through downloading software off the Internet. It’s always a good idea to take extra care to read the information that comes with the program before you download so that you can ensure that you know exactly what you are downloading. This information will often be included in the Terms and Conditions you need to accept before the program can install onto your system.