What is Spyware?
Spyware is spy software which infiltrates your system and performs all manner of tricks. This can result in various consequences ranging from producing pop-up adverts on your computer screen to sending sensitive information about you, back to the source.
One of the main differences between spyware and viruses is that spyware is often downloaded to a users machine by consent. When downloading software many users do not read the license agreement properly, and unwittingly accept to download a piece of spyware, which usually comes bundled with the software they are interested in.
What are the effects of spyware?
There are varying degrees of threat posed by spyware. Some can be harmless, whereas others can be very invasive. These effects can include:
1. Altering your browser: producing toolbars, adding favourites, changing your homepage or default search page.
2. Producing pop-up adverts.
3. Slowing down or crashing your computer.
4. Logging your keystrokes: (perhaps the most dangerous) - keeping a log of your keystrokes - which may include passwords, usernames, bank details or other sensitive information, this can then be analysed remotely without your knowledge.
5. Diallers: essentially spyware targeted at dial-up Internet users which has the ability to change their Internet dialling preferences to dial premium rate numbers which results in some hefty phone bills. For a free BT download which checks for premium rate dialers try http://www.bt.com/premiumrates However, be aware it does not prevent premium dialers, but only highlights you to their existance.
7. Be aware of websites with hundreds of pop-ups containing headings like 'congratulations' or 'warning'. Spyware is often only a click away. If you do not have a Windows pop-up blocker then download a free one from http://www.panicware.com/product_psfree.html
8. Be careful when downloading free software. A lot of spyware comes bundled with free screen savers, games, utilities, from file sharing websites and almost anywhere you can get free software. Of course, not all free software has spyware, but try to use known or trusted sites, and always read the agreement.
9. Educate your kids - children are vulnerable to spyware, they can spread software quickly, are usually highly networked, will download free software, use file sharing, won't normally read agreements and spyware coders know how to exploit their behaviour and actively target sites children will visit.
10. Only download tried and trusted free spyware remover programs. There is an abundance of rogue free spyware remover software available, for a comprehensive list visit http://www.spywarewarrior.com/rogue_anti-spyware.htm