What is Spyware?Spyware is a type of program that can be downloaded onto your computer, usually without your knowledge, either on its own or packaged with another piece of software that you really did want to install.
What are the Risks of Having Spyware on My Computer?Some types of spyware are relatively harmless, such as programs that track what websites you visit and how you spend your time on the internet. While a violation of your privacy, this type of spyware doesn't cause too much harm.
However, other forms of spyware can be much more malicious. For example:
- Hijacked Ads. Spyware can replace the advertisements that a website has placed on its pages, showing you scams and offers of porn and other unsavory advertisements instead of the tasteful ads that you would expect from a reputable website.
- Flood of Pop-Ups. Spyware can cause your computer to be flooded with pop-up advertisements, flooding your screen and slowing down your browser.
- Identity Theft. Spyware can include a keystroke logger, which tracks everything you type into your computer and sends it to the person who created the program. This can put sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers into the hands of criminals.
What is the Difference Between Spyware and Viruses?Spyware generally doesn't try to spread itself to other computers, like viruses do.
How Can I Get Spyware While Sweeping?Spyware can be bundled with programs that websites offer to let you download like sweepstakes toolbars or trackers. When you take the bait and install a program, you've installed the spyware as well.
Spyware can also be more subtle. For example, you may get a pop-up window that asks you whether you want to scan your system for viruses or whether you really want to enter that sweepstake. Whether you answer yes or no, you've still authorized the spyware to install itself. For more information, see the Internet Security Guide's article, Don't Close That Pop-Up!
What Should I Do to Avoid Spyware?Before you submit an entry form or download a great-sounding new sweepstakes tool, use your judgment to determine whether the site is legitimate. Some advice to help you decide includes:
- Top Questions to Ask to Avoid Sweepstakes Scams
- Does the Site Ask for a Reasonable Amount of Information?
Many of the newer generation of internet browsers, such as Internet Explorer and Firefox, have features in place to help you detect and avoid spyware. You can also use a program like Spyware Blaster to block spyware before it finds a place on your computer.
How Can I Remove Spyware from My Computer?The best way to get any spyware you might have picked up off of your computer is to use an anti-spyware program. The Net Security Guide has a great list of Free Anti-Spyware Software. Personally, I use the first two programs on that list - AdAware and Spybot Search and Destroy. Sometimes, one of those programs will pick up something that the other missed.
When Should I Scan for Spyware?
- Any time your computer is running slowly.
- Any time you visit a site that you fear was not trustworthy.
- Any time your computer starts acting strangely.
- Any time you have a strange pop-up window appear on your computer.
- Regularly, even if you don't have any problems.