Spyware is any software that obtains information from a PC without the user’s knowledge. There are many different types of spyware operating on the Internet but you can generally group them into two categories: Domestic Spyware and Commercial Spyware.
Domestic Spyware is software that is usually purchased and installed by computer owners to monitor the Internet behavior on their computer networks. Employers use this software to monitor employee online activities; some family members use domestic spyware to monitor other family members (such as reviewing the content of children’s chat room sessions).
A third party can also install domestic spyware without the knowledge of the computer owner. Law enforcement officials have used domestic spyware to monitor suspected criminal activity and criminals have used domestic spyware to siphon personal information from private computers in order to steal assets.
Commercial Spyware (also known as adware) is software that companies use to track your Internet browsing activities. Companies that track your online habits often sell this information to marketers who then hit you with targeted advertising—ads that match your browsing interests and would most likely appeal to you.
Advertisers are delighted when they acquire such valuable marketing information so easily; in the past marketers had to bribe you to learn your preferences through contests, registration surveys and the like. Those methods of gaining your personal information still exist, but in those cases you have the power to read the fine print to learn the fate of your data and so could choose to consent or refuse. Gaining your preferences by stealth using software spies is far easier and offers a much more complete picture for the marketing industry; as a result, spyware is everywhere. For more information on how and when spyware attaches itself to your computer, read
How Did Spyware End Up on My Computer?
At the very least, spyware is a nuisance—slowing down your computer, filling your hard drive with useless gunk and marking you as a target for enterprising advertisers. Beyond intruding on your privacy, spyware can be used as a tool to perpetuate crimes, such as identify fraud. Below is a list detailing different types of spyware and the purposes for each.
Internet URL loggers & screen recorders
URL loggers track websites and pages visited online; screen recorders can take a small grayscale snapshot image of your screen every time it changes and can store or transmit these without notifying you. These methods are common to Domestic spyware.
Chat loggers & email recorders
Email recorders and chat loggers are similar, making a text copy of all incoming and outgoing email and chat sessions. Domestic spyware frequently utilizes these methods.
Keyloggers & password recorders Keyloggers & password recorders
When you bank online with this software on your hard drive someone is looking over your shoulder. Password recorders do just that—track typed passwords. Keylogger software records all of your keystrokes, not just passwords.
Web bugs are also known as advertiser spyware or adware. When you have adware on your computer you receive targeted, popup ads after you perform some action, such as typing something into a search engine. This advertising can even appear on your screen even when you are not online. If you are pummeled with new advertising screens constantly, you most likely have web bug spyware installed on your computer.
Browser hijackers place Internet shortcuts on your Favorites Folder without prompting you. This shortcut will lead many accidental viewers to their website so that they may artificially inflate their website\'s traffic stats; this enables them to receive higher advertising revenues at the expense of your time. You may be able to get rid of these false favorites by changing your Internet options, but occasionally the only way to get rid of these annoying shortcuts is to go into your registry and delete them. However, some spyware installs a safety net for itself that resets the spyware on your registry each time you reboot. Your only option to kill this aggressive type of spyware is to reformat your hard drive or to utilize excellent anti-spyware software.
If you use a telephone modem for your Internet connection, an unscrupulous person may be able to install an online dialer on your computer to establish a new Internet connection that uses pricy 900-type long-distance phone numbers—quite a shock when you get your next telephone bill. These dialer spyware programs often piggy-back on spam and porn emails; simply opening the email can inadvertently initiate the dialer installation. The hard-to-track villain banks on the fact that you’ll pay your phone bill in full before you take time to figure out what happened.
Some borrow your computer system for their own use—spyware users can hijack your connection to send their spam through your ISP. This means that a parasitical spammer can send thousands of spam emails through your computer connection and your ISP address. High-volume, high speed Internet access lines are targeted by users of this spyware. Often victims don’t realize that their good name has been muddied until their ISP cuts them off due to spam complaints.
Trojans & viruses
Like the wooden Trojan horse that the Greeks used to enter Troy, this spyware masquerades as a something harmless yet can compromise your computer—your data may be copied, distributed or destroyed. A virus is similar but has the additional power to replicate itself, causing damage to multiple computers. Both of these vicious pieces of software fall under the definition of spyware because the user is unaware of and would not condone their true purpose.