What is spyware?

Spyware is software that records and reports on your internet search and browsing habits or software like key loggers or screen grabbers that can capture all your personal information as you enter it into a web page, even a secure one.

The aim of spyware is to gather information about a person or organisation without their knowledge, it may send such information to another entity without the consumer's consent or assert control over a computer without the owner’s knowledge.

Spyware is mostly used for the purposes of tracking and storing internet users' movements and serving up pop-up ads to users. If you have ever visited a company website and later seen adverts for that company on other web pages, then you have seen spyware in action.

Whenever spyware is used for malicious purposes, its presence is typically hidden from the user and can be difficult to detect. Some spyware, such as key loggers, may be installed by the owner of a shared, corporate, or public computer intentionally in order to monitor users' activity.

What are the risks?

On its own, spyware tends to be more annoying than harmful. However, if there are enough spyware programs on your computer, they could affect its performance or internet connection.

Spyware is getting more dangerous as it can inform hackers of your online habits, making you an easier target. Hackers can then block your computer's access to the original sites you regularly visit and redirect it to their own replicated versions. This means that when you sign in or try to purchase something from the replicated site, your passwords or banking details can be stolen.

Other types of spyware will use 'pop ups' to pretend to be something useful, such as a security alert about infections. If you click on the link provided, you risk falling into the trap and downloading a malicious piece of software or programme.

There isn't one solution that will remove all spyware threats – the best solution is to have two different spyware tools that perform regular scans. Some security suites containing antivirus, firewalls etc. also include anti-spyware products. If you subscribe to one of those you may already be covered.

Free anti-spyware tools

Remember to update the software every time before you scan for threats.