What is Spyware? - dummies

By Dan Gookin

Spyware was designed to help customize advertising on the Internet. Based on which web pages you visited, advertising was targeted specifically for you. That sounds good. But this fresh concept quickly turned sour.

Several flavors of malware all fall under the category of spyware:

Tracking: The most innocent form of spyware is merely a tracking cookie placed by a website on your computer. The cookie is little more than a text file, though it’s read by various websites as you plod through your Internet activities. This type of spyware can easily be removed by deleting all your Internet cookies.

Adware: As its name implies, adware is advertising software. It may not even be spyware, but, rather, software that features ads to support the program’s development. Examples include free toolbars and screen savers that may have a legitimate function but also display advertising and just may also monitor Internet use or scan your email.

Piggyback: The worst spyware is the piggyback program. It attaches itself to another program and may reset your web home page, redirect website requests, randomly flood your screen with advertising, and perform other irritating acts. The worst thing is that it is nearly impossible to remove. Indeed, the software agreement that many users innocently agree to states that the program cannot and will not be removed from their computers.

Though spyware is malware, it’s not considered a virus. That’s because spyware doesn’t self-replicate and most of it is acquired voluntarily. Yes, it’s true: Most people invite spyware into their computers. Irritating programs are downloaded willingly; they promise a service or claim to do something clever. Then they prove to be the piggyback type of spyware that cannot be uninstalled.

The insidious part is that spyware multiplies. Unless you keep an eye on things, the amount of spyware in your loaded PC grows larger and larger. You may not lose data, but the PC slows to a crawl because of all the spyware programs clogging the arteries.

Because spyware isn’t considered to be viral, most antivirus programs don’t scan for, detect, or remove spyware. To combat the scourge, use specific antispyware software, such as Windows Defender.

  • Some antivirus programs are bundled with antispyware utilities as part of an Internet security suite.

  • Most free spyware scanners simply remove Internet tracking cookies. They don’t perform a complete evaluation of your computer system for spyware infection.

  • Some spyware programs steal credit card numbers. They fly under the banner of making your online purchases easier by storing all your payment information for you. Wrong! If you value your financial security, credit card information should never be stored anywhere.

  • Avoid free or web page—based antispyware programs. They are often spyware themselves. The only spyware programs you should trust are Windows Defender and anything they sell in a box at the software store.