Spyware is a piece of malware that tricks you into installing it by piggybacking on a piece of desirable software or disguising itself as one – for instance as a “web accelerator” or a helpful software agent. It then goes on to do what it’s actually made for: advertise, collect personal information and change certain settings on your computer.
The effects of a spyware infection range from simply annoying, like obstinate pop-up ads that disturb your activity, to down-right dangerous, like recording and transmitting your personal information all the way back to its creator.
Spyware seems to love company and is often associated with adware (programs that display unwanted ads) and tracking cookies (software that is designed to track your browsing habits for marketing purposes). That is why a spyware infection can wreak havoc on your whole system by:
slowing down your internet connection
monitoring everything you type, including typos, backspacing and retyping
recording any passwords you have asked your computer to remember
redirecting you to certain websites
flooding your screen with pop-up ads
changing your internet home page
installing other malicious software without your knowledge
showing random error messages
installing suspicious toolbars
slowing down your computer’s performance
inserting unknown links in your favorites section
changing computer settings
affecting the stability of your computer and causing it to crash
How can you tell if you have been infected with spyware?
Spyware infections are more common than you’d think, mainly because these sneaky programs get installed behind your back and keep a low profile while they do their nasty business. However, if you experience one or more of the symptoms listed above, there may be prying eyes on your computer. And because spyware seems to travel in packs, you may have multiple infections that interfere with your work and system performance, as well as threaten your online privacy.
How can you protect your computer and your privacy?
Spyware is notoriously hard to detect and remove, so your best bet is to stay clear of it in the first place. How? By following these basic internet safe habits:
Only download programs when your internet security software (complete with a firewall and an antispyware feature) is active and up-to-date. Make sure your defenses are up before you introduce a new program into your system. This way, you’ll be alerted if something looks fishy and will be able to prevent or fix a potential problem right away. The new BullGuard Internet Security 12 comes with a tough Firewall that lets no intruders sneak up on you and an Antispyware engine designed to detect even the sneakiest spyware trying to infect your system.
Download free software only from websites that you know and trust. Free software from questionable sources like peer-to-peer file sharing programs may end up costing you far more than you would have paid for the legitimate program, so think twice before hitting the “download” button.
Don’t install any software before you know exactly what it is. Take your time to find out as much as you can about what you plan to install on your computer. Read the End-User Licence Agreement (EULA) carefully, even the small print. If it’s hard to find or understand, you’re probably better off without their program.
Don’t click on links within questionable pop-up windows or ads. You may actually be welcoming spyware into your PC as soon as you click on them. Just ignore them or hit the X in the corner of the title bar.
Don’t click on links in spam messages that promise free software. The better they sound, the more likely it is they’re just a scam. And the worst are those that advertise free antispyware programs, but will actually install what they claim to get rid of.
Always keep your software updated. Outdated programs are like unlocked doors and cracked windows for all kinds of malware, including spyware programs. You need to secure your system by downloading and installing critical updates. Some may come your way automatically, but some need to be found and installed by you and that can turn into a real hassle. Fortunately, there is one way you can make sure all updates are installed the moment they’re available: the Vulnerability Scanner in BullGuard Internet Security 12! It checks your system for vulnerabilities, finds the needed updates or patches and reminds you to install them as soon as they’re released by the software manufacturers.