What is Computer Spyware?

In real life, a spy is someone who surreptitiously keeps watch, learns the secrets of his or her enemies, and reports them back to his or her employer. A cyber spy functions much the same way as a live spy. Computer spyware installs itself on your computer without your knowledge or consent and records your every move. Computer spyware is sometimes used for marketing purposes. Based on sites you have visited in the past, you may find your browser redirected to similar sites, or you may find yourself barraged by pop-up ads. You may even find that your home page has been changed to a commercial site. Pornography sites are especially infamous for changing homepage settings, which can lead to considerable embarrassment at home or in the workplace. Even worse, computer spyware can be used to record your keystrokes, which can lead to identity theft, especially if you complete online forms requesting your name, date of birth, social security number, credit card information, etc.

How Does Spyware Get on My Computer?

Computer spyware is usually bundled with some sort of download--games, screen savers, shared files, pornographic pictures, etc. For this reason, it is important to download only from trusted sites with solid reputations. If your computer is always connected to the internet, you may be the victim of a "drive by" download, or a download that is sent automatically to your computer without any action taken on your part. You can foil drive by downloads by installing a firewall and keeping the security level high enough to prevent downloads from taking place without your permission. Your firewall should also alert you if another computer is attempting to send information to your computer.

Finally, if you click on a link within a pop-up ad, you might inadvertently install computer spyware. No matter how interesting or tempting the ad may look, close it out immediately by clicking on the "X" box, usually located in the upper right corner.

How Can I Get Rid of Computer Spyware?

First of all, delete spam emails that offer to get rid of computer spyware for you. If you click on the links provided in the spam, you will actually be downloading spyware instead of getting rid of it. Instead, download a reputable spyware detection program such as Ad-Aware from Lavasoft. Run it regularly, at least once a week, and immediately delete any spyware it detects. This brief task will ensure that your private life remains private--even in cyber space.