Spyware is a general term used to describe software that performs certain actions, generally without obtaining your consent first, like collecting personal information, changing the configuration of your computer or even user’s keystrokes.
Spyware is often associated with software that displays advertisements (called adware) or software that tracks personal or sensitive information and then sending it to its creator. Spyware will cause your Internet traffic to increase and make your computer run slow. A common trick is to unknowingly install the software during the installation of another computer program you want, like a music player or video file sharing program.
In January 2014 just one week after Gibson Security reported vulnerabilities in Snapchat’s security, Snapchat had 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers exposed. The attack involved a program which matched usernames (which are often used across other services) with mobile phone numbers (which users usually wish to keep private) and published the results on a website.
You can avoid getting your PC infected with spyware by following these steps:
- Don’t download and install programs from suspicious websites or shared by others over the Internet
- Read carefully through the Terms and Conditions of Use of any computer program you install because they may force you to install spyware
- Chose very carefully what plugins you install in your Internet browsers and read their Terms and Conditions of Use
- Install anti-spyware software
- Always keep your firewall on and updated
You should be aware that spyware programs are not viruses, so installing antivirus software does not fully protect your computer from spyware. A list of anti-spyware software can be found here.