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What is Spyware?

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What is Spyware?

by Answers 2000 Limited

Spyware is a type of malware (MALicious softWARE) that can take over your computer, and install itself without your knowledge or consent. It can get on your computer either through malicious web sites exploiting security bugs in your web browser to download and install the spyware, or by being bundled with software that you chose to install.

Most types of spyware gather at least some personal information about the user of the computer (hence the name SPYware). This usually includes information about your surfing habits, such as web sites visited, but in extreme cases has been known to include highly confidential information such as passwords - even passwords to Internet bank accounts! At the very least, somebody gathering information about you with your knowledge or consent, can leave you feeling violated. In the worst cases, there is a risk that you could become a victim of fraud.

The normal purpose of most (but not all) spyware is not to facilitate financial fraud against individual internet users, but instead is to generate revenue for the spyware's developer by displaying adverts. Each of the adverts may only generate a few pennies for the developer, but if many thousands of computers are infected, these pennies can add up to a very large amount. These adverts may not always be immediately obvious as being adverts, and often include one or more of the following:-
  • By setting your web browser's home page to an advert-filled page controlled by the spyware's developer.

  • By redirecting searches or mistyped URLs to an advert-filled search engine controlled by the spyware.

  • By showing pop-up adverts when you surf. A particularly common variant is to show pop-ups for a rival merchant when you visit a leading web site. For example, you go to shop at book store A, and start seeing pop-ups for a different book store, B.
Of course a line needs to be drawn between spyware and legitimate advertising-supported software, so you should not assume that all software that contains advertising is spyware. Legitimate advertising-supported software may also show adverts on your computer, and in some cases even gather personal information about you, however the difference is that it is does this with your informed consent. The typical bargain with legitimate advertising-supported software goes like this: in return for you accepting advertising and some agreed collection of information about you, you get some useful software in return.

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