What is spyware?
Spyware is the undercover secret agent of the email scammer. Installed on your computer without your knowledge, it spies on your PC, collecting personal information or changing the configuration of your computer.
How can I tell if spyware is on my computer?
There are a number of signs:
You see pop-up ads even when you're not browsing the web
Your browser's start page or search settings change without warning
A new toolbar appears in your browser that you didn't expect or want
Your computer starts to run more slowly or to crash more often
How does spyware get onto my computer?
It is often installed along with other software you actually want to download. Free software like browser toolbars, weather programs and screensavers sometimes install spyware onto your computer. In the small print of the license agreement that you see during installation, it will tell you that the extra software is going to be installed, but many people don't realize the implications.
How does it affect my security?
At best, the software can be fairly harmless - it might collect information about your browsing habits and display advertising targeted to your interests. Even so, it does feel like an invasion of privacy and it may slow down your computer.
At worst, spyware can be malicious; it may scan your hard disk to try and capture your personal information, such as banking details and passwords, and transmit them to criminals. It may also try to shut down your anti-virus or anti-spyware programs.