Home > Internet Use > What is Spyware and How Does it Work?

What is Spyware and How Does it Work?

By: Thomas Muller - Updated: 27 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
What Is Spyware And How Does It Work?

If your computer starts slowing down, crashing or behaving in a strange manner then it may have been infected by spyware, but what is it and how does it work?

Privacy Invasion

As the name suggests, spyware is a breed of programme that spies on your computer behaviour. These intrusive and sometimes malicious bugs skulk around the hidden corners of your system harvesting valuable information about where you go and what you do online. It can then pass your personal details to hackers or unscrupulous advertisers without you being the wiser. The info collected can then be used to bombard you with adverts or just choke up your computer so that it slows down or crashes.

Spyware can scan files on your hard drive, monitor private chat programmes and read cookies. Certain websites have been known to infect visitors with spyware so that they can sell them software they claim would remove it. At their very worst spyware can mine credit card details.

Secret Infestation

Spyware is alarmingly common in home computers, usually without their users being aware. Unprotected PCs in particular are often found to have a variety of different breeds of spyware running simultaneously. Although the creators of these naturally want them to remain as inconspicuous as possible, they are often badly coded and as a result interfere the computer operating system, making it slow down or crash.

Spyware is not illegal and not necessarily always up to no good; some legitimate marketing companies collect anonymous data for valid reasons and can be fairly open about what they collect.

More often than not, however, spyware is just created to make money in a ruthless and devious manner, either by picking up referral fees on adverts or by exploiting stolen private information. Its potential for harm far outweighs any benefits, and users are advised to try to avoid it all costs.

Adware and Malware

The term spyware is often used interchangeably with adware and malware, two slightly different but no less bothersome programme types. Adware installs secret advertising software on your computer that can generate pop-up ads or hijack your homepage or the links in web pages so you are taken to a different website than you want, typically a dubious commercial site.

Malware, short for malicious software, is usually designed to simply wreak damage to your computer system, much like a virus, or pass on your password to hackers.

Where Am I Picking Up Spyware?

Spyware is not something that affects all web-users indiscriminately; it tends to lurk in the web’s darker recesses and prey on those with a fondness for free things.

If you frequent less reputable websites and download dubious files and software then you are putting yourself at a much greater risk of falling victim than if you are a light and casual browser of respected websites. Spyware doesn’t just grab onto your computer as you innocently go about your daily surf, it needs an infection entry point, usually this is either in tricking the user into downloading something or, more commonly, when the user downloads something with disreputable origins.

This might be free software, peer-to-peer file swapping programmes - spyware companies pay these services to bundle spyware into their downloads - or a programme that claims will grant the user access to tons of free films and music.

Typically these entry points prey on users who want something for nothing. As with anything in life if it sounds too good to be true then it usually is, and in this case you just get burdened with insidious little spyware bugs.


Spyware is typically caused by disreputable websites and programmes and so naturally it is best to avoid such web avenues when searching for preventative measures. Always opt for respected anti-spyware such as Ad-Aware, SpywareBlaster and AVG Anti-Spyware.

Alternatively, as spyware is almost exclusively an Internet Explorer and thereby a Windows issue, you could always opt to switch browsers and even operating systems.

Security updates in Windows and Internet Explorer have made great strides in attempting to deal with the problem but ultimately the control rests with the user. Stay protected and don’t download something without first knowing what it is.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Bilaljaved
    Re: Spotting Student Plagiarism
    I checked the plagiarism initially and it was 48%, I managed to reduce it to 18%. when uploaded on university blackboard. Later,…
    9 April 2021
  • Grape
    Re: How to Join MI6
    I’m a 13 year old boy from the UK I have been interested in MI6 for a while now I am a shy individual that has not many friends making me a perfect…
    21 October 2020
  • Lucifer
    Re: How to Join MI6
    I wanna join you, , , iam a killing machine and willing to die in the battle field
    28 June 2020
  • Apola
    Re: How to Join MI6
    I certainly thought this would have at least any older people to leave a comment, but all I see is preteens being desperate to be an agent. Just…
    23 May 2020
  • riama
    Re: How to Join MI6
    I'm a 12 year old girl and have always been interested in joining SIS/MI6. I would like to find out what the GCSE requirements are so I can work…
    29 April 2020
  • Blinkers
    Re: How to Join MI6
    Joined the Cyprus army at the age of 18, i may bot be the smartest person in the room but my i can be very street smart. i feel like i could be at…
    24 April 2020
  • Dead
    Re: How to Join MI6
    I want to join MI6 please fams, don't have ID though.. Immortal on a good day, 5ft 500pounds speaks dog language, i have some people ide like to…
    4 February 2020
  • Fruits
    Re: How to Join MI6
    Hi im a 12 year old girl and i am really interested in MI6, Ive always wanted to join and be a spy doing secret missions.The thing that inspired me…
    27 December 2019
  • TomCallan
    Re: How to Join MI6
    Y’all aren’t the most perceptive people are you? First things first, you need to be at least 17 and a half to apply and have full British…
    22 September 2019
  • healer
    Re: How to Join MI6
    Hi Im healer and please take me I will do all the missions and I will always follow the orders please take me Thank you!
    11 August 2019