Before we get into what spyware and adware actually are, let’s first clarify what they are not. Many assume that spyware and adware are a type of virus, this is not the case. A virus is a computer program with the ability to self-replicate. This self-replication is designed to damage your computer in one of two ways: either by continually corrupting or deleting your files; or by multiplying itself until it has filled up your entire disk.
So if they are not a virus, what are spyware and adware?
Let’s start with spyware. It really is exactly what it sounds like—a computer program that spies on you. Spyware is designed to scan your hard drive and browsing history to identify information about you, including your name, age, gender, login information, and even highly-sensitive material, such as banking information.
Adware is any software that sends you advertisements based on your internet browsing that it has tracked. So if you are vigorously researching one topic in particular, adware essentially recreates the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon by advertising all things related to your topic of research. While this may sound more like a solution than a problem, it can significantly slow down your processor and internet connection. Often, though adware may be considered harmless, it may have spyware built into it. This leads to much greater issues and potential damage.
Now that we understand what adware and spyware are, a useful addition to our technical vocabulary would be malware. What is malware? A combination of the words “malicious” and “software”, it is a general term that includes spyware, adware, and other software in this family. Malware is created to interfere with your machine’s normal operations, whether to retrieve information for advertising purposes or allowing hackers to gain access of the computer.
Keep in mind that these are not always negative terms. Yes, there are portions of adware that are to be feared. But often adware may be a company’s form of freeware they offer. Rather than offering their software on a free temporary basis, you can benefit from their software for free and on a long-term basis, as long as you’re willing to ignore the advertisements. But it is when the advertisements become tailored to you that we move this into the spyware category.
So how can you recognize these dangers and then avoid them? Crossroads consulting services can help you implement a system to avoid falling prey to these traps.