The term spyware covers a broad array of malicious software programs that are designed to collect information about how a person uses their computer. The type of information gathered by spyware programs can vary from fairly benign data like commonly visited websites to personal information like account passwords and credit card numbers.
Adware is a very common form of spyware that typically does not pose a serious threat to a computer user’s privacy or security, but some forms of adware can really eat up a computer’s resources. The general purpose of adware is to display various targeted advertisements as a form of generating revenue for a particular software program or online service. Most adware is not malicious and is installed with a computer user’s full consent. However, there are some forms of spyware that covertly gather information about a person without their knowledge. These programs gather details about how an individual users their internet browser and uploads this private data to third-party businesses for a wide range of purposes.
Tracking spyware is the most common type of spyware and consists of programs that have the sole purpose of gathering information about how a person interacts with the internet. Tracking spyware often falls into a gray area in terms of ethics, as the information gathered by some of these programs is only used for statistical purposes and contains no personal data. In some cases, tracking spyware is created and distributed by large companies for the express purpose of gathering data about their customers in order to fine tune their marketing strategies, such as the Alexa Toolbar distributed by Amazon.
Other forms of tracking spyware are more clearly malicious in nature and are design to uncover security weaknesses in how a particular person uses their computer. Some of these programs are bundled with keyloggers that automatically begin recording a person’s keystrokes when they visit certain sites like financial institutions and social media services. This data is later uploaded to a hacker’s FTP account or website for potential exploitation in the future.
Scareware is easily one of the most frustrating types of a malicious spyware. While there are a number of different types of scareware in circulation, they are all designed to provoke a sense of anxiety in a computer user in order to provoke a user to take a particular action. One of the most common examples of scareware being used as spyware comes in the form of programs that falsely warns an user that their computer has been compromised by spyware and needs to removed by a particular program. However, the program that the scareware encourages users to download is simply a powerful form of spyware itself that is designed to exploit a person’s internet surfing habits. SpySheriff is one of the most well-known malware programs that uses this tactic.