Spyware is a type of malware installed on computers that collect information about users without their knowledge. The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user and can be difficult to detect. Some spyware, such as keyloggers, may be installed by the owner of a shared, corporate, or public computer intentionally in order to monitor users.
While the term spyware suggests software that monitors a user’s computing, the functions of spyware can extend beyond simple monitoring. Spyware can collect almost any type of data, including personal information like Internet surfing habits, user logins, and bank or credit account information. Spyware can also interfere with user control of a computer by installing additional software or redirecting web browsers. Some spyware can change computer settings, which can result in slow Internet connection speeds, unauthorized changes in browser settings, or changes to software settings.
Sometimes, spyware is included along with genuine software and may come from an official software vendor. In response to the emergence of spyware, a small industry has sprung up dealing in anti-spyware software. Running anti-spyware software has become a widely recognized element of computer security practices for computers, especially those running Microsoft Windows. A number of jurisdictions have passed anti-spyware laws, which usually target any software that is surreptitiously installed to control a user’s computer.
Malware, short for malicious software, is software used or created by hackers to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. While it is often software, it can also appear in the form of scripts or code. ’Malware’ is a general term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software.
Malware includes computer viruses, computer worms, Trojan horses, most rootkits, spyware, dishonest adware and other malicious or unwanted software, including true viruses. Viruses are sometimes confused with worms and Trojan horses, which are technically different. A worm can exploit security vulnerabilities to spread itself automatically to other computers through networks, while a Trojan horse is a program that appears harmless but hides malicious functions. Worms and Trojan horses, like viruses, may harm a computer system’s data or performance. Some viruses and other malware have symptoms noticeable to the computer user, but many are surreptitious or simply do nothing to call attention to themselves. Some viruses do nothing beyond reproducing themselves.