What is Spyware?

Spyware is a broad category of malware used for the purpose of secretly gathering data on an unsuspecting user. Spyware may target your browsing data, login credentials, or other personal information, sometimes with the intent of forwarding it to a third party. Spyware is often installed via a Trojan virus.

Types of spyware 

  • Adware - Adware gathers usage data via display ads in web browsing. Not necessarily malicious, adware becomes so when it gathers data about users without their consent.

  • Tracking Spyware - Like much spyware, tracking spyware blurs the line between legitimate ad data collection and violating personal privacy. It’s often "agreed to" through terms and conditions.

  • Keyloggers - Often called a keystroke logger, this type of spyware covertly records keystrokes entered on a page, often to steal login credentials or payment information.

How does spyware work and why does it pose a threat?

As mentioned, different types of spyware often blur the distinction between the legitimate collection of advertising data and undermining a user's online privacy. In many instances, a user has given his or her consent to have some online activity tracked by agreeing to certain terms and conditions or a site's cookie policy. Adware, for instance, more generally refers to a platform that automates the placement of online advertisements, thereby generating revenue for its creator. Many of us simply wouldn’t recognize our favorite web pages without this non-illicit type of adware. 

Spyware truly crosses the line to becoming malware when a user's activity is tracked without his or her permission. Malicious spyware has the potential to slow your computer, generate unwanted and even explicit pop-ups, or pass data on your browsing habits to a third party. 

Given its intent to gather data on a user, which may be valuable in its own right or may which be sold to another malicious actor, some of the most damaging spyware is that which exists on your computer undetected. Unlike malware designed specifically to damage a device, spyware is its most successful when it’s able to evade discovery. 

Protect your computer with anti-spyware

Like with most malware, there are best practices to avoid becoming infected with spyware. These include:

  • While it may be a tough pill to swallow, fully reading terms and conditions and privacy statements before installing software or using a website helps users understand how their use will be tracked

  • Never click on ads from unfamiliar or illicit-seeming sources, and beware of false buttons that appear they will close a pop-up.

  • Use an up-to-date web browser designed to protect against spyware

  • As always, an effective internet security tool with spyware detection capabilities is the surest way to avoid infection. 

Read more about spyware

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It’s where our team of dedicated threat researches publishes the latest information on developing internet security threats, trends in cybercrime, and other news from around the industry.

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