Spyware is a type of malicious program that can find its way onto your computer in numerous ways. Spyware. I sounds like some kind of top secret device that you might find in a spy novel, but what it actually is is a broad term that refers to malicious software that can infect your PC or mobile devices. The purpose is to gather and transmit information about you, including details about your accounts, your browsing history, your Internet usage habits, and other data that should never be shared.

This won’t come as a shock to you, but spyware, like the name implies, can be very hard to find and extremely damaging to you on a number of levels. It finds its way onto your computer from a number of sources and attaches itself to your operating system, making it a permanent fixture on your computer and putting all of your secure data at risk. In many cases, the user himself gives permission to install the spyware. Known spyware can be embedded in the installation process of may types of software you use often. Some of it may not even classify as spyware and could be collecting data about you without your knowledge. You might have even inadvertently given permission for the spyware to install itself when you agree to the terms and conditions of what you believe to be a legitimate program. This is a danger you can avoid by always making sure to read the small print.

It really doesn’t matter how the spyware gets on your computer, the point is, it can cause harm that ranges from mild to absolutely detrimental to your privacy. This, of course, depends on where your data is being sent. Spyware can monitor and record your keystrokes to be sent away and analyzed. The keystrokes can reveal everything you ever type on your computer. Some spyware takes screenshots of your computer, grabs your passwords and other authentication credentials, email addresses of your friends and relatives (later to be exploited), any data typed into forms, Internet usage information, and even credit card numbers. Imagine this data falling into the wrong hands. In fact, imagine the data leaving your computer at all. Some of it may simply go to companies to later be used in marketing, but there’s also a chance the information could be sent somewhere more sinister for worse reasons.


Ways to Get Spyware and How it Works

Spyware infects a system just like other types of malware. It can arrive in the form of a Trojan, a virus, a worm, or a system exploit. These are just some of the examples of ways spyware infects your PC or mobile device:

  • Security vulnerabilities. Keeping good antivirus software on your computer, regularly updated, and keeping your system updated with all security updates can help you out here. Also, avoid clicking on links that look suspicious or don’t come from official sources, particularly in your email. Companies like Paypal, your bank, and other official sites don’t ask you to click on links and supply personal information.  These files could either run an executable attachment or links to a website program that will download and run a program designed to spy on you. Sometimes just visiting a malicious website and viewing a page or banner ad can result in what is called a drive-by download. Pop-up windows can trigger an infection. Believe it or not, trading software, documents, and other types of files can trigger the delivery of a spyware program hidden within. All executable files (or document files that run macros) can be the culprit.

  • Misleading marketing. This is a tricky one. Spyware creators have become adept at pushing their spyware on you by embedding it in the installation of programs you might legitimately want to run. Ironically, many programs that present themselves as “spyware cleaners” can be the worst sources for spyware. Other popular program types include Internet accelerator, download managers, programs for cleaning your hard drive, special search toolbars, and web search services. These types of “baited” programs can result in infections. Sometimes you agree to it in the fine print, sometimes there isn’t even a warning.Even if you uninstall the offending software, the spyware can remain.

  • Mobile device spyware. Mobile spyware has been in existence since mobile devices became prominent. Mobile devices are small and users can’t see, or often overlook, many of the dangerous things going on behind the scenes. Devices can become infected when you install an app with malicious code. Many of these apps are legit apps that get re-compiled by hackers with malicious code embedded in them. Legitimate programs downloaded illegally from torrent sites are particularly dangerous and known for including spyware and other, more dangerous, malicious code or viruses.

There are a lot of dangers that can occur with spyware. Infostealers, keyloggers, password hijackers, and bank trojans are just a few of the dangers. The information taken from your computer can be sold to the highest bidder and used to steal money from your bank account, place orders online using your credit information, steal your identity, destroy your reputation, or any number of other ways. Your identity can be used for illegal activities such as downloading illegal pornography or committing fraudulent acts. There’s no end to how serious the problems can get when your privacy is invaded. Spyware can even take control of your computer and specific components of your computer, including your webcam. Can you imagine having your privacy invaded with the webcam on your computer?

Antivirus and Spyware Protection

It’s clear you have to be aware of your privacy, your personal data, your files, and the security of your family. The key is good antivirus software. Antivirus software protects from viruses and other malware, but the best antivirus software on the market will have built-in spyware protections, data protection, and malware protection designed to protect your privacy, your information, and the security of your family. Trend Micros, Kaspersky, and other antivirus products are suitable for this purpose. Don’t rely solely on Windows Defender. It can be used in conjunction with other antivirus software, but it has a rather limited spyware capability and on it’s own may not be the best protection. In the end, you can never have enough privacy. Avoid spyware by being careful of the websites you visit, not clicking on unknown links in your email, reading the small print when you download programs, and keeping your system up to date. Also, get good antivirus software and keep it updated as well. You can never be too safe online.