What is Spyware?
When you hear the word spy, do you picture a cloaked figure lurking in shadows watching your every move, gathering information without your knowledge? Well that's exactly what spyware does...it gathers personal information without your knowledge or consent. It's a software data collection program that can track your screenshots, keystrokes, personal email addresses, credentials, internet usage habits, financial information, and other personal information. Once your data is collected, it is used or sold to others, for spam, marketing, identity theft, or financial crimes.
Spyware is a type of malware (malicious software), a parasite. It's a program that covertly installs itself on your computer, and then proceeds to annoy you with pop-up ads and/or steals your personal information. The creators of spyware are very adept at their craft, and they make it very difficult, or impossible, to remove spyware. If your computer suddenly becomes very slow, you notice new icons on your desktop, or you become bombarded with pop-ups, you more than likely have spyware.
Avoiding spyware infection is your best defense. Most of the time, spyware infection comes from surfing on suspect websites, or downloading/installing pirated programs. Stay away from porn sites, P2P file sharing programs, and pirated versions of commercial software. If it looks shady, it probably is. Don't download email attachments from people you don't know. If it's from someone you know, check with them before you open any attachments, to verify they sent it to you. Even then, be cautious...their computer could be infected, and they're unwittingly passing on spyware to your computer.
If you think your computer has been exposed, run a spyware detection program. You should always do this frequently as part of your regular security routine. It should be part of your desktop security software program. If it isn't, you need a new software program.