What is Spyware?
Spyware is any software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. Spyware applications can get onto your computer by hiding behind freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet, or spyware can attach itself to a variety of Web sites. Once the spyware is installed on your computer, it begins to monitor your activity on the Internet (keystrokes, chat activity, Web site visits) and sends that information to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about email addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers which can potentially lead to fraud and identity theft.
In addition to being unethical, spyware also uses the computer's memory resources by eating bandwidth as it sends information back to the spyware's home base via the user's Internet connection. Because spyware is using memory and system resources, the applications running in the background can lead to system crashes or general system instability. This can be extremely frustrating and make it seem like your computer is paralyzed.
How to Identify Spyware
If your computer is constantly being bombarded with unwanted pop-up ads or your homepage has been hijacked and defaults to an unknown page, it is most likely infected with spyware.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone who uses a PC running Windows and surfs the Internet using Internet Explorer is at risk for being attacked by spyware.
Anti-virus software, firewalls, and Internet pop-up blockers generally do not provide adequate protection from spyware once it's on your machine. Once installed, spyware is almost impossible to remove in its entirety and is sometimes automatically reinstalled. You should not attempt to remove spyware on your own.