Understanding spyware is simple: it's spying software. But noticing if you have spyware on your device is anything but simple. It's sneaky by definition, running unnoticed in the background while it collects information, or gives remote access to its author.
This makes spyware one of the most dangerous forms of malware, because it specifically goes beyond damaging devices or data, and goes for your personal identity and real assets.
For criminal organizations, spyware is a useful tool to collect financial information such as online banking accounts and passwords, or credit card information. Advertisers use it to figure out your online habits and serve you more relevant ads. Governments use it to collect as much information as possible on you. When they do that, it is often called “govware” or “policeware”.
How does Spyware collect data?
Spyware takes on many different shapes and serves many different purposes. Among them, spyware can:
- Record your keystrokes: Called keyloggers, this kind of spyware is used to collect passwords and track communications that arise from the use of a keyboard.
- Track online activities: Some tracking cookies can arguably be considered spyware, in the sense that they track your movements online and report what you visit to advertisers so they can serve you more relevant information. But more nefarious forms of tracking also exist.
- Take control of your computer: Some forms of Trojan spyware will make changes to your security settings to allow remote control over your device.
- Slow down your device: Often, the only tell-tale sign that you’re infected with spyware will be the parasitic way it steals processing power and internet bandwidth to communicate what it has stolen.
How do I remove Spyware?
If you know that you’ve been infected with spyware, kudos! You’re pretty perceptive and should probably be working for us.
That said, if you just want to stay safe there’s not much you can do other than use a good anti-spyware tool. Most advanced antivirus products like AVG AntiVirus FREE include spyware removal as part of their general anti-malware suites.