What is it?

Spyware is computer software that is installed secretively on a personal computer to intercept or take partial control over the user's interaction with the computer, without the user's informed consent.

While the term spyware suggests software that secretly monitors the user's behavior, the functions of spyware extend well beyond simple monitoring. Spyware programs can collect various types of personal information, such as Internet surfing habits, sites that have been visited, but can also interfere with user control of the computer in other ways, such as installing additional software, redirecting Web browser activity, accessing websites blindly that will cause more harmful viruses, or diverting advertising revenue to a third party. Spyware can even change computer settings, resulting in slow connection speeds, different home pages, and loss of Internet or other programs. 

How does spyware get on my computer?

Spyware does not directly spread in the manner of a computer virus or worm: generally, an infected system does not attempt to transmit the infection to other computers. Instead, spyware gets on a system through deception of the user or through exploitation of software vulnerabilities.

Most spyware is installed without users' knowledge. Since they tend not to install software if they know that it will disrupt their working environment and compromise their privacy, spyware deceives users, either by piggybacking on a piece of desirable software or by tricking them into installing it (the Trojan horse method). Some "rogue" anti-spyware programs masquerade as security software, while being spyware themselves.

The distributor of spyware usually presents the program as a useful utility—for instance as a "Web accelerator" or as a helpful software agent. Users download and install the software without immediately suspecting that it could cause harm.

Spyware can also come bundled with shareware or other downloadable software, as well as music CDs. The user downloads a program and installs it, and the installer additionally installs the spyware. Although the desirable software itself may do no harm, the bundled spyware does. In some cases, spyware authors have paid shareware authors to bundle spyware with their software. In other cases, spyware authors have repackaged desirable freeware with installers that add spyware.

A third way of distributing spyware involves tricking users by manipulating security features designed to prevent unwanted installations. Internet Explorer prevents websites from initiating an unwanted download. Instead, it requires a user action, such as clicking on a link. However, links can prove deceptive: for instance, a pop-up ad may appear like a standard Windows dialog box.

Some spyware authors infect a system through security holes in the Web browser or in other software. When the user navigates to a Web page controlled by the spyware author, the page contains code which attacks the browser and forces the download and installation of spyware.

The installation of spyware frequently involves Internet Explorer. Its popularity and history of security issues have made it the most frequent target. Its deep integration with the Windows environment and scriptability make it an obvious point of attack into Windows. Internet Explorer also serves as a point of attachment for spyware in the form of Browser Helper Objects, which modify the browser's behaviour to add toolbars or to redirect traffic.

In a few cases, a worm or virus has delivered a spyware onto a computer.

How should I fix it?

There are a lot of different anti-spyware programs that claim to clean up spyware from your computer. However, some of these programs are either difficult to understand and use or they also create some other issues. Some of the anti-spyware programs are actually bogus programs that are designed to install more spyware on your system. In order to avoid creating additional problems, please have ITNS clean the spyware off for you by submitting a help request.