Definition

spyware

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Secure Web gateways, from evaluation to sealed deal
Contributor(s): Taina Teravainen

Spyware is software that is installed on a computing device without the end user's knowledge. Such software is controversial because even though it is sometimes installed for relatively innocuous reasons, it can violate the end user's privacy and has the potential to be abused.

Spyware that is installed for innocuous reasons is sometimes referred to as tracking software. In the workplace, such software may be installed on corporate laptops to monitor employees' browsing activities. In the home, parents might install a keystroke logger to monitor their children's activity on the internet. Or an advertiser might use cookies to track what webpages a user visits in order to target advertising in a contextual marketing campaign. If the end user is told that data is being collected and has the ability to learn with whom the data is being shared, such data collection programs are not considered spyware.

When tracking software is abused, there can be a significant impact on privacy. For example, if a smartphone gets infected with mobile spyware that was sideloaded with a third party app, the phone's camera and microphone can be used to spy on nearby activity, record phone calls, log browsing activity and keystrokes, and monitor the phone owner's location.

Spyware can be difficult to detect; often, the first indication a user has that a computing device has been infected with spyware is a noticeable reduction in processor or network connection speeds and in the case of mobile devices -- data usage and battery life.

Antivirus software that includes antispyware protection should be used to find and remove spyware. To prevent spyware, users should only download software from trusted sources, read all disclosures when installing software, avoid clicking on pop-up ads and stay current with updates and patches for browser, operating system and application software.

Many internet users were first introduced to spyware in 1999, when a popular freeware game called "Elf Bowling" came bundled with tracking software.

This video from On Demand News explains how spyware works.

This was last updated in September 2016

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Mostly used for the purposes such as; tracking and storing internet users' movements on the web; serving up pop-up ads to internet users that monitors a user's computing,can result in slow Internet connection speeds, un-authorized changes in browser settings, or changes to software settings
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What methods have been the most successful for spyware detection and mitigation in your organization?
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