What Is Spyware?
Spyware is a software application that is used to gather, and often transmit, data over your Internet connection. Typically installed without the user’s knowledge, every effort is made by the author of the software to ensure that it goes unnoticed for as long as possible.
The data that spyware collects can vary greatly, depending on the application and the intended use for your data. Spyware may collect basic information regarding the websites you visit, or it may be used to collect logon details for membership based websites. Spyware can be used to steal vast amounts of personal data from your computer.
Is There Such A Thing As Legitimate Spyware?
Legitimate spyware does exist, in the form of Internet activity monitoring software. This software may be installed by employers or by parents in order to track the web activity of employees or children respectively. This is still grouped under the term spyware because it performs the same action and, while it has its legitimate uses, it could also be used for malicious purposes. In some cases these applications may also be referred to as greyware, or PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs).
How Spyware Travels
Authors have a number of ways of distributing spyware. Below is just a short list of some of the more common methods of infection.
l Freeware, or software that is distributed free of charge over the Internet, may contain spyware. When you download and install this software you immediately put yourself at risk, should the installation also contain spyware.
l File sharing networks, or peer-to-peer networks, contain a plethora of infected files. Some may be infected with viruses, while others use appealing file names in order to distribute spyware and other forms of malware. Always use caution when downloading content from file sharing networks.
l Email attachments can also contain spyware. Users should take care when downloading or opening email attachments from any sender they do not recognize. Again, appealing subjects are used to dupe users, while worms can transmit spyware from other infected computers, so it is possible that the spyware could be sent by an email address you recognize.
Spyware is a big problem, especially for regular Internet users. Good Internet usage practices are required, especially when partaking in high risk Internet activities, such as downloading freeware, or using file sharing networks. A combination of a firewall and at least one anti-spyware application can help to prevent the downloading of any spyware files, or remove any infections that have become resident on your system.
Your Internet Security Structure
You are your own greatest tool against becoming infected with spyware. Unfortunately, it is necessary for virtually anybody that uses the Internet to implement a good structure of Internet security software. A firewall and anti-spyware software will help to protect you, as will configuring your browser, and using lower risk web browsers and other software. However, the best anti-spyware software available is only useful when it is allowed to run.
The Fight Against Infection
Always ensure that you take advantage of any real time protection that your security software offers. Should you attempt to download a file that contains spyware, or if a web page tries to covertly install spyware on your system, then your software will be well positioned to pick up on the threat and act accordingly. Also take advantage of any updates to the software and to the signature or definition database belonging to your anti-spyware. This will help to minimize the chances of being infected by the very latest threats, although it is virtually impossible to protect against zero-day infections.