Spyware is a blanket term for malware that is installed on your computer with the goal of tracking or stealing your private information. There are many types of spyware designed for various reasons. Some are designed by hackers with the goal of obtaining private data to be used to breach your sensitive accounts, or to blackmail you for the information they have stolen. However, some spyware is designed by third-party advertisers with the goal of selling the data they collect for marketing and advertising purposes. There is even opt-in spyware software offered by companies who let you know their goal is to send you targeted advertisements; in most cases, it is installed without your knowledge.
Types of Personal Data Spyware Can Collect
Spyware software is designed for specific purposes, which could include but are not limited to:
- Tracking your keystrokes
- Stealing your password and login information
- Obtaining personal data stored on your hard drive
- Collecting client or business data stored on your hard drive
- Gathering data from emails, social media, gaming and internet use
Data Collection Isn’t the Only Concern
Aside from the valuable data collected, spyware can redirect you to websites and display unwanted pop-up ads. It can record instant messaging, take screenshots of your computer, change your homepage and drain your computer resources. It can even cause your computer to crash. Some spyware can remotely access your laptop camera without your knowledge or consent. Did that get your attention?
The Most Common Way Spyware Is Installed
There are a variety of ways that spyware can be installed on your computer. One of the most common ways malware is installed is by installing free software. Don’t think you have any free software on your computer? Think again. Have you ever downloaded a free toolbar or a gaming app? How about a free service for anything, like a free movie, music app or a free file-share service? While they may be free, they may also come with the cost of spyware. Companies will pay to piggyback free offerings with their software. Or, the free product may have been compromised and contains malware. However, spyware can also be installed by clicking on a pop-up or ad you are unfamiliar with. Even by opening an email or attachment from an unreliable source, you could be compromising your computer.
How to Avoid Spyware
There are many precautions you can take to reduce your risk for unwanted spyware. Here are a few:
- Invest in a security software program designed for malware (also one for anti-virus protection). Set scans to run automatically or run scans regularly.
- Think before you download anything from a file-share program or a free software or service provider. Also make sure to read the fine print on paid services, free downloads and license agreements to see if they include automatic opt-in advertising malware.
- Don’t open emails or files from unfamiliar sources. If you accidentally open something questionable, run a quick spyware and virus scan.
- Be leery of free spyware and virus protection software. Quality protection is rarely free and may instead contain the spyware you are trying to avoid. Yikes.
- Close popups by clicking the “X” in the top right-hand corner. If you see an increase in pop-ups, run a security scan.
- Make sure you perform all updates for your security software, as well as your daily software. This includes Microsoft Windows.
- Hire a trusted IT professional to consult on the best ways to protect your computers and electronic data.
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