Spyware is a form of malware that is installed on your computer without your knowledge or consent and that can take over control of all or part of the computer system. Spyware can operate on your computer to collect your personal information and send it to a third party.

You Can be Tracked, Your Computer Can be Damaged, Your Information Can be Stolen

Spyware can install additional software, change your computer settings, monitor how you browse the Web and track which pages you look at, then send the information to a third party which can use it for marketing purposes.  It can slow down your processor, cause pop-up advertising and do a number of similar things which interfere with your use of your computer and which invade your privacy.

Spyware can also be used by advertisers and marketers. They gather information about you by tracking the websites you visit and the links you click, and use the information to improve their advertisements or better target the individual with specific advertisements reflecting your tastes and interests.
Even more alarming is that spyware can also enable the sender to control your computer remotely, from their location, without your knowledge. Your computer might then be used to send spam, or conduct illegal activities, or to track your keystrokes to steal your personal information such as account numbers, passwords and PINs, to use for identity theft or other illegal purposes.

How Does Spyware Get Downloaded

Spyware can be downloaded onto your computer if:

  1. you install freeware or shareware, such as screen savers or games, which bundle spyware applications with the main application;
  2. you click on a pop-up ad;
  3. hackers hack into your computer and put spyware on it
  4. you open an email containing an attachment containing spyware (for example a spam email);
  5. you visit a website that has spyware on it which automatically downloads without your knowledge.

How to Tell If Spyware is On Your Computer

Almost everyone who browses the Internet is likely to have some type of spyware downloaded onto their computer. Here are some ways you can tell if spyware is on your computer:

  1. you start receiving lots of pop-up ads;
  2. your home page or favourites list in your browser has changed;
  3. your internet connection is very slow;
  4. your hardware is doing things you didn’t initiate;
  5. you have a new toolbar which you did not consent to;
  6. you have new programs which you cannot seem to uninstall;
  7. your phone bill contains charges you did not authorize;
  8. your internet searches take you to unknown, sometimes pornographic websites;
  9. you receive random error messages;
  10. you receive targeted emails, including some sent to you by name from strangers;
  11. you have been a victim of identity theft;
  12. you find that some keys on your keyboard stop working from time to time;
  13. you’ve run anti-spyware software to scan your computer and it indicates that you have spyware.

How Do You Protect Yourself from Spyware?

It is virtually impossible to completely protect your computer from all spyware.  You can minimize the chances of spyware getting into your system by not downloading shareware which might contain spyware; by avoiding clicking on pop-up ads (any button, even the “No” buttons, can cause spyware to be downloaded); and by not opening spam.

You should regularly run security software to protect your computer from new viruses, spyware and other malware.

Violence or the Threat of Violence

If you are a victim of violence or the threat of violence and suspect that someone has installed spyware to monitor your activities, talk to the police or a victim advocate before attempting to remove the spyware. Law enforcement may be able to assist you and would want to preserve evidence.