Any software which is able to gather information from a computer, or gain control over it without the owner’s knowledge is known as spyware. Normally used for harmful reasons, spyware is difficult to detect and many people believe that their computer system is malfunctioning instead of being infected. Spyware can be used to monitor internet activity and the four main types are:
- System monitors
- Tracking cookies
Even though not all spyware is illegal it is a violation of privacy, and can have unwanted effects when used to:
- Collect Data – Bank account information, as well as user logins and credit cards, can be acquired by monitoring internet activity.
- Interfere with User Control – Install unwanted software and direct browsers to different websites.
- Change Computer Settings – Software settings can be replaced and internet as well as computer speed slowed down.
The ways in which spyware is used maliciously against individuals are:
- Identity Theft and Fraud – Once personal data has been collected it can be used to make purchases or commit fraud with the victim’s information.
- ‘Stealware’ & Affiliate Fraud – Payments go to the owner of the spyware instead of the person running the website, in effect stealing the person’s commissions.
- Personal Relationships – Spyware has been set up in order to monitor the activities of someone’s partner or a family member.
- Browser Cookies – Tracks browser activities, as well as send pop-up ads to the computer.
The majority of spyware is put into place by individuals, but government agencies are also known to install Trojans in order to monitor activities by organisations or people that are on their radar.
Whenever a computer becomes infected there are normally several different forms of spyware working together, and the most noticeable effects of an attack are: your computer starts freezing or displays problems when booting up, as well as the possibility of complete system crashes. Affected systems can be restored to normality by reinstalling all software.
The best way to deal with a spyware attack is to put preventative measures in place. This means that information can be kept safe and systems will continue to run as efficiently as possible. Ways in which this can be done are:
- Protecting the computer by installing anti-spyware software that can work in two different ways:
- To detect and remove spyware which has already been installed and
- To scan all incoming data and block any spyware it detects.
- Internet Explorer has a higher risk of being attacked by spyware than other browsers, so it is recommended to install a different one such as Firefox or Google Chrome.
- Set firewall to block access to websites which normally install spyware.
As technology advances so does computer spyware. Anti-spyware software is also becoming more advanced, so it is recommended to always have one installed on your system. That way computer users can always be safe instead of sorry.