Spyware is a general phrase for software that gathers information about your computer, the things you do on it and then sends the information to a third party.

Sometimes it can be relatively benign, for instance, a spyware programme might ask for your consent to gather information such as tracking your browsing habits and monitoring application usage for marketing purposes.

However, that said more often than not it installs itself on your computer without you knowing anything about it. It then runs in the background secretly collecting data or sending you targeted adverts.

Malicious spyware seeks to gather personal information such as credit card details, bank account numbers, user names and passwords and send this information to a server controlled by cyber criminals.

In short, spyware can gather all sorts of information, from your game, social media and email account logins to sensitive financial data.

It can also be designed to redirect you to advertising sites or infiltrate your computer with unwanted and annoying pop-up ads.

How spyware gets on your computer

  • Hides in software downloads from the Internet including videos and music
  • Often hidden in freeware applications – some freeware, in end-user agreements, indicates that users will be tracked though few people bother to read the license agreements so remain oblivious
  • Pop-up windows that offer a prize, a free holiday or other free service often hide spyware
  • Phishing emails and social media messages can also contain links to spyware
  • In some cases even visiting an infected website is enough for spyware to download

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Tell-tale infection signs

There are some clear signs that your computer has been infected with spyware and one of the most obvious is pop-ads appearing on your screen.

That said, if your default home page has changed, your browser automatically redirects to websites you don’t want to visit or your computer runs slowly or crashes then it’s likely that you have a spyware infection.

Avoiding spyware infections

There are some simple things you can do to reduce the chances of spyware infecting your computer:
  • Be careful what you download especially free or file-sharing music and video programs
  • Don’t click on pop-up ads that offer tempting but unlikely freebies
  • Download software only from trusted sources
  • Beware of free anti-spyware and anti-virus programmes. They can contain not only spyware but other types of malware too
  • Read the fine print in end-user licensing agreements before clicking on ‘accept’. It’s a tedious chore but worth it especially if you see references to data-gathering and sharing information with third parties. This indicates that ‘legitimate’ spyware will track your online movements.

In built protection

BullGuard Internet Security provides robust defences against spyware. It warns you if a website is compromised with spyware, flags up software that may be hiding spyware and quarantines and destroys any spyware that you may already have on your computer.