How does Spyware Work

It's estimated that around 80 percent of personal computers worldwide are infected by spyware, which is a serious issue, considering that most of the people don't even know how these spyware work.
A spyware is a commonly found malicious software, which is clandestinely installed on a personal computer in order to collect personal information about users without their consent. This malware is most often downloaded on the system when users surf the Internet, or download software and other files. Some commonly encountered spyware include Trymedia, Hotbar, and Estalive.

Spyware - How it Works

A spyware usually affects the machine when the user ...
  • ... clicks on the tab of a pop-up window.
  • ... installs a particular software package.
  • ... approves to add functionality to the browser.
Spyware programs are most often installed by trickery. For instance, a fake system alert may feature a tab called 'cancel' to deny request, but when you click on this tab, the spyware automatically gets installed on your machine. Common ways by which a spyware can get installed on your computer are discussed below.

Piggybacked Software Installation: Sometimes spyware is installed as a part of the standard installation procedure of some applications. One such example is peer-to-peer file sharing. Though the spyware is enlisted in the installation list, the user doesn't take a note of it, mainly due to lack of attention. This is mostly the case in free versions, which are advertised as alternatives to the software you want to purchase.

Drive-by Download: In this case, the website or pop-up window itself downloads and installs the spyware. The browser will display a message stating the name of the software to be downloaded, along with a warning that it may be malicious, but only if you have proper security settings at your end.

Browser Add-ons: These software are meant to add enhancements, such as a tool bar or animated pets, to your browser. While downloading such add-ons, invariably some spyware elements are also installed on the system. At times, the add-ons themselves are spyware in disguise. Such add-ons are referred to as 'browser hijackers'.

Posing as an Anti-spyware: This is one of the most wicked way by which a spyware can infect your computer. The software convincingly portrays itself as an anti-spyware meant to detect and remove spyware, but actually installs additional spyware in the system. When you run the application, it shows that the computer is clean and hence, it's difficult to detect and remove such software.

The functions of a spyware range from secret monitoring to altering computer settings. While some spyware are programmed to collect the personal information of a user, some are programmed to interfere with the user controls of the system, either by installing some software or redirecting web browser activities. A spyware-infected computer can experience slow connection speed, loss of Internet, or adverse functioning of various programs. It can even run in the background as an application and encroach RAM space, thus making the machine slow. It can take control of you search engine and alter the results that are generated, thus making web search useless. More importantly, it can record the information that you feed onto the computer, including your passwords and other vital information.

There are several applications available in the market which can effectively remove spyware. These anti-spyware protection applications can detect and remove these malicious software, thus cleaning your computer. However, it's better to prevent these spyware from corrupting your system in the first place, and that can be done by taking some simple precautions.
  • Disabling Active-X on the browser helps a great deal, as most of the spyware applications use this code to infest the system.
  • Avoid downloading if you are suspicious about the site, or the components to be downloaded. Download only when it's necessary.
  • Instead of using the 'No thanks' tab on the pop-ups, use 'X' at the right hand corner to close them.
Today, spyware has become the most prominent computer security problem for Internet users across the globe, so much so that spyware infection is considered a bigger threat than virus infection. On the brighter side, taking some simple precautions can ensure that your personal computer is safe from these malicious software.