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What is spyware?

Spyware is software that is installed on your computer without your permission. It is often bundled with free software or compromised websites. Another common source of spyware is software acquired via file-sharing  (BitTorrent, etc.).

Its purpose is to report your computer's usage habits to the spyware's developers. This information is sometimes used to display pop-up ads or gather marketing data. Spyware can interfere with your network connection, degrade the performance of your computer and prevent legitimate software from working properly.

How is spyware different from adware?

Spyware and adware are essentially the same. The primary difference is that adware typically does not insert itself into your computer operating system as thoroughly as spyware, and its developers are more upfront about the fact that their application is ad-supported.

Are cookies considered spyware?

Most cookies are legitimately used to gather and report information about website visitors back to the publisher. Such cookies are commonly used to remember your logins between site visits or certain preferences you have set while interacting on a site.

Cookies are merely text files. They can safely be deleted and are usually recreated when you next visit or login to a website. Most modern web browsers allow you to delete cookies and choose whether to block some or all.

How to avoid spyware

  • Do not click on website banners offering enticing content or to fix an alleged issue with your computer.

  • Be wary of free software. If you must use free software, do your research on whether or not the software is legitimate and download it only from a trusted website.

  • Do not click on links in spam e-mail messages. These will often re-direct you to sites that install spyware on your computer.

  • Music/file sharing is a pipeline to spyware, viruses and hackers... and is illegal, besides. Is it really worth all that trouble?

How to detect and remove spyware

The best software to scan for and remove spyware is Malwarebytes. It is available in a free version for both Mac and Windows operating systems, and can be safely installed alongside existing anti-virus software.

Last updated: April 3, 2023

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