Spyware by definition, is a computer software that is installed on a computer in order to gain information about the computer user without his/her consent. It is installed with an intention of monitoring user behavior and collecting information such as personal details, Internet surfing habits, and browser activity.
Spyware programs make use of computer networking technologies to send information from different computers to a dedicated computer that is designated to keep track of user activity on the computer network.
Information about the websites visited, software downloaded, as well as sensitive data like usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers can be gathered by means of spyware.
What does spyware do? Firstly, it installs itself on a computer without the knowledge or consent of the user. It transmits a unique identity code over the network. It collects information from the computer without the user's consent and also gathers user information such as user identity, confidential user information, and the user's browsing habits.
It keeps reinstalling itself without the user's knowledge, and is able to hide itself from the user if it finds that it's being searched.
Computers that have Internet Explorer as their default web browser, are more vulnerable to spyware as the browser is tightly linked with the Windows operating system due to which it becomes easy for the spyware to harm sensitive parts of the OS.
Programs running on operating systems like Linux and Mac are less vulnerable to spyware as these operating systems restrict programs and users from meddling with their functionality.
The presence of spyware on a computer can lead to unwanted CPU activity and increased disk usage, thus hampering computer speed. It can lead to serious issues like non-performance and instability of the computer system, and even a system crash.
Spywares can make several parasitic processes run on computers, thus slowing their program execution. Certain kinds of spyware are capable of disabling firewalls and antivirus software, thus threatening computer security.
In what forms do spyware programs come? Many spyware programs display advertisements. They enter computers through pop-up windows. The pop-ups deceive users into clicking on them. Certain websites gather user information for advertising purposes through the use of spyware.
Some spyware programs access chat sessions, usernames, and passwords while some can even cause the modem to dial a number other than the usual Internet service provider, resulting in higher call costs to the user.
Cookies that track browsing information and record user activity on the Internet are considered as spyware. Data-collecting programs are regarded as forms of spyware.
In general, any technology that gathers information about a computer user without his/her knowledge or consent can be termed as spyware. One can get rid of it by an effective use of antispyware software and with the help of spyware protection mechanisms.
Spyware can be used for tracking user activity over the Internet for the purpose of advertising. Organizations may make use of spyware programs to record user behavior for security concerns. But when user privacy is at stake, it is indeed illegal and unethical.