Spyware is software which tracks and monitors your computer activity and then reports back to a central server with all the information that has been collected. Spyware is sometimes installed in a covert manner on top of or as part of some larger application. Often a user does not know that spyware is being installed on their computer.
Spyware is used to collect data to form a profile of your computer use habits. This information is then used so the spyware can present ads targeted at areas which might be of interest to you. Most spyware claim to collect only web addresses that you visit and that no personally identifiable information is recorded. However it is possible that your username and even password are stored within the web address that the spyware records. There are no means to discover what information these companies record about you so there is no way to know for certain what is being recorded.
Privacy statements that come with spyware are usually very ambiguous about how the collected information is handled. Where is this information being stored? Is it being kept secure? Is the information totally anonymous? These types of questions are never answered and the user is left to just hope that spyware makers are keeping up their end of an ambiguous agreement.
The simple fact is you can't know for certain what spyware is doing.
Some spyware license agreements include provisions that allow the spyware makers to alter settings on a user's computer without their knowledge. This includes installing new software and changing system settings such as a web browser's homepage, bookmarks, and even the system clock.
The most ominous licenses will include provisions that claim copyright ownership over your information. One such example is Hotbar, a popular piece of spyware that includes ambiguous terms in its license agreement that could be interpreted to claim ownership over the content of your email.
Are you aware what is being agreed to when you accept that end user license agreement?
Spyware is different from viruses and as such most anti-virus software will not detect or remove spyware. However there are other applications which have been created that will detect and remove spyware for you. Links to some spyware removing software tools are provided in the other resources section of this website.
Preventing spyware can be difficult. Often spyware comes bundled as part of an application which may have a useful purpose. The unsuspecting user installs the application and agrees to the end user license agreement (EULA) without taking the time to read through and understand what the software is doing.
Other times spyware is installed covertly, without a user's knowledge, usually through a specially formed web page or e-mail attachment. Disabling ActiveX in Internet Explorer can help, however ActiveX is used in many other legitimate ways, such as BSU's WebMail. A possible alternative solution is to utilize a spyware blocklist file which selectively disables those ActiveX components known to install spyware.
The best way to prevent spyware is to install only those applications that have been approved by a network administrator or come from a source you trust.
Last Modified: December 9, 2010