Kaspersky Internet Security Center

What is Spyware and What Does it Do?

What is Spyware and what does it do?

Spyware may sound like something out of James Bond's closet, but it's actually a dangerous computer program that can put all of your private information at risk. As computers, data, and applications have become a central part of all of our everyday lives, cybercriminals or external third-party developers are using spyware to snoop on, steal private information to either use in outright cybertheft or to sell to a third party. Understanding what this software is, and how it can affect you, is an important part in protecting yourself and your family while online.

What Does Spyware Mean?

Spyware is software that's installed without your informed consent, whether it be a traditional computer, an application in your web-browser, or a mobile application residing on your device. In short, spyware communicates personal, confidential information about you to an attacker. The information might be reports about your online browsing habits or purchases, but it can also be modified to record things like keystrokes on the keyboard, credit card information, passwords, or login credentials.

This software normally gets onto a computer by attaching itself to some other program that the user intentionally downloads and installs. Sometimes this is done completely discreetly, but other times the desired software will include information in the license agreement describing the spyware — without using that term — and forcing the user to agree to install it in order to install the desired program. Alternatively, spyware can get into a computer through all the avenues that other malware takes, such as when the user visits a compromised website or opens a malicious attachment in an email.

The Harm It can Cause

Spyware can cause you two main problems. First, and perhaps most importantly, it can steal personal information that can be used for identity theft. If the malicious software has access to every piece of information on your computer, including browsing history, email accounts, saved passwords used for online banking and shopping in addition to social networks, it can harvest more than enough information to create a profile imitating your identity. In addition, if you've visited online banking sites, spyware can siphon your bank account information or credit card accounts and sell it to third-parties or use them directly.

The second, and more common, problem is the damage spyware can do to your computer. Spyware can take up an enormous amount of your computer's resources, making it run slowly, lag in between applications or while online, frequent system crashes or freezes and even overheat your computer causing permanent damage. It can also manipulate search engine results and deliver unwanted websites in your browser, which can lead to potentially harmful websites or fraudulent ones. It can also cause your home page to change and can even alter some of your computer's settings.

Controlling the Problem

The best way to control spyware is by preventing it from getting on your computer in the first place, but not downloading programs and never clicking on email attachments isn't always an option. Sometimes, even a trusted website can become compromised and infect your computer — even if you've done nothing wrong.

Many people are turning to internet security solutions with reliable antivirus detection capabilities and proactive protection. If your computer is already infected, many security providers offer spyware removal utilities to assist in identifying and removing spyware. There are a number of free antivirus solutions available, but while a free antivirus trial is an excellent way to figure out which product is best for you, don't rely on a solution that promises unlimited protection at no cost. Often they will lack certain features, like a virtual encrypted keyboard for entering in financial information or a strong anti-spam filter and cloud-based detection system, which leaves your computer at risk. Be sure to use a reliable internet security provider when choosing a Spyware removal tool as certain utilities can be fradulated and actually be spyware themselves.

Spyware, and its associated malicious programs like malware and viruses, will always be a danger as long as you use an Internet connected device. Protecting your finances and identity needs to be a top priority, and it simply can't be done through understanding the problem alone.