Spyware is software that tracks computer use. This technology can be used intentionally or unintentionally and it can be used for good or for bad. Most notably it is used for bad, in which case it is sometimes called “malware”. However, this title has not really caught on and “spyware”, even if the user agrees to it, is generally not desirable.
The main reason that a person would want to use spyware is if they want to participate in file sharing. File sharing is legally questionable but is popular none the less. This is the way that people “share” music or other medial files and “shareware” is a popular type of spyware that people choose to install on their computers.
There are other types of spyware that people do not choose but they agree to as a part of certain on-line agreements. For example, participation in certain on-line groups is associated with receiving email ads from those groups or the companies that the groups sell their name lists to. While a person may not have signed up for the “adware”, another type of spyware, they might have agreed through online participation. Often when someone wants something free online, the payoff is allowing some adware.
Sometimes as a person clicks “next” through the setup wizards they make an agreement to let a company track their online activities. These activity tracks are then sold to advertisers. This type of activity is, at least tacitly, agreed to when the user clicks on “next”. It is a good idea to carefully read licensing agreements when downloading software. Sometimes the agreements warn that spyware will be installed. However, the warning will not be straightforward and the word “spyware” will not be used. Look for words like “sharing” or “tracking” and decide if spyware is something that you want on your computer.
The worst sort of spyware is the spyware that is not agreed to and runs completely without the user’s knowledge or consent. When this spyware runs, it might do more than track information for advertisers. It might track information for more malicious purposes, like identity theft. Passwords and credit card information are typed into computers everyday, and spyware is there to make sure that the information gets into the wrong hands.
This malware might also cause the computer to run slower or even crash. It can change the browsers’ home page and other set-up options and make them very hard to change back. This type of spyware drains computer memory because information from the user’s computer is always being sent out to some other computer. Uploading the information takes away from the computer’s memory. This memory drain can lead to instability and crashing
Once spyware is installed on a computer, it is very hard to remove. When it installs it adds code that tells your computer to reinstall it when the computer restarts. It is better to install anti-spyware before installing or downloading any other software.
Anti-spyware comes with most commercial anti-virus programs, and it is recommended to use a complete anti-virus program with computers that will be used on-line. However, there are stand alone anti-spyware programs. Some are commercially available, and others can be downloaded for free. Windows Defender is a free program. Because spyware is changing all the time, anti-spyware has to change all the time to keep up. Often updates come in the form of pop-up windows and must be allowed for the update to take place. The Windows Defender program can be set up to automatically update. This option should be clicked during installation.