The word “spyware” just sounds scary. It sounds like some sort of software spy, and that is exactly what it is. Spyware is software that gets into your computer and collects your personal information. This personal information is then sent back to the creators of the spyware and used against you.
There are all sorts of nefarious uses for spyware. One of the more harmless (but certainly annoying) uses is for advertising. The spyware on your computer can track your browsing history. This browsing history is reported to the spyware developer and then sold to advertisers, who then focus their advertisements on you.
This can take the form of routing your HTTP addresses to advertisers, who reroute their ads right back to your computer. It can also take the form of stealing your name, phone number, email, and home address from the forms you fill out online. Once advertisers have your digits, they can bombard you with ads in your email box, or they can have tele-marketers call you, or send ads directly to your home mailbox. All of this advertising is solicited, without you knowing it, by spyware.
Another use of spyware that is more malicious and destructive is when it is used to intercept passwords and credit card numbers. This is the most dangerous type of spyware because it can lead to identity theft as well as fraud. Because this type of spyware can be so dangerous, it is important to be selective about what sites you release your information in.
Never type personal information into a non-secured site. Also, never ask the computer to store your passwords. These stored passwords are available to spy software users and can be used to hack into your personal accounts.
It is also good to know about the places on your computer that information is stored. Every time you type anything onto the Internet, it is stored in your computer. Every website you visit is stored in “web history”. The same is true for all of the key words that you type into a search engine and for all the information you type into web forms. To delete this information you should purge your computer regularly.
To get rid of existing information you can click on “tools” and then on “Internet options”. Use the menu to delete your browser history (favorites will still be saved). You will also want to delete your cookies. Cookies are all of the stuff that you have typed into an online form. While you are in there, you should delete temporary files where spyware is often hidden.
This security tab is set at medium by default. You must manually change it to the higher setting if you want to control which cookies are on your computer. Medium high is a good setting to use.
Of course, the best and easiest way to protect yourself against spyware is to download or purchase anti-spyware software. The anti-spyware industry is big and getting bigger. Every time the bad guys come up with some new way to breach the security of your computer, the good guys come up with some way to block it. The spyware arms race has made security better but it has also created such tricky spyware that it is impossible to avoid without an anti-spyware program.