Spyware is unwanted software that attaches itself to your computer, often without your knowledge, when you surf the web. It spies on you, and when it does, it noticeably bogs down and can crash your computer. Spyware can even compromise your identity.
Just a few short years ago, spyware wasn't considered much more than a nuisance for PC users. It has since rapidly morphed into a big security risk for companies and consumers alike whether on PCs or Macs.
At CU-Boulder, spyware now accounts for more than 30 percent of the 60,000 plus customer calls the IT Service Center gets each year.
Originally spyware was a term used to describe any technology that gathered information about a person or organization without their knowledge. Now spyware is a catchall term for several types of malicious software. The consequences of a moderate to severe spyware infection (privacy issues aside) generally include a substantial loss of system performance and major stability issues (crashes and hangs).
Spyware is designed to collect information about you and your web habits. Many people are unaware that their computers are infected with spyware that has been secretly installed into their hard drives. Some of these programs were created expressly for advertising purposes, sending marketers information about what you search for online, what you download, what sites you visit, etc. Advertisers in turn use this information to send you "tailored" pop-up advertisements that cater to your individual interests, based on sites you've previously visited.
Spyware continues to grow as one of the largest computer security problems we face. ITS has seen that requests to rid systems of spyware is one of the largest problems at our service center. Spyware is getting more malicious as well. New versions are used to transmit e-mail addresses for spamming, share your personal information (passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card information, etc.), increasing your risk for identity theft and other privacy issues. Some of the most invasive forms may even track exactly what keys you type.
The bottom line is that spyware primarily works without your permission and behind your back.