The term is composed of the word “spy”and the “ware” of software. It refers to programs that spy on data from a user or computer and send it to third parties. Other terms include “snoopware” and “sniffing software.”

What does the term “spyware” mean in detail?

Spyware is often used to spy on user behavior on the Internet. This data, as an example, then forms the basis for the on-line commercials that are selected to show you. Background: the more targeted the online advertising is that’s shown, the more that can be charged for the corresponding advertising space. Virtually any additional information about a user means a higher price. Spyware is often included in free software, such as in screensavers or addon programs. The information about this is hidden mainly in the license terms, such as, “automatic communication functions.” Spyware can also be spread through worms and Trojans or get into a computer system through security holes. Authoritarian regimes sometimes use these methods to spy on people who disagree politically. Many spyware programs are technically very sophisticated, making them particularly difficult to remove.

Where would I encounter spyware in everyday work?

In everyday work, spyware may catch your eye through targeted online advertising, such as products that you have previously viewed in an online store. Or your computer might be slower than usual, especially if you are on the Internet. In order to avoid having company- sensitive data spied on, in addition to your user data, you should check your computer for spyware or have it checked.

What can I do to protect myself from spyware?

Here are some steps you can take to protect against spyware:

  • Disable active content (such as Adobe Flash, Java) from running in the browser
  • If possible, do not accept cookies and if so, only “visited pages”
  • In addition, all the general cyber security measures, including very good update hygiene, use of firewalls and anti-virus software, smart handling of admin rights, critical review of links and email attachments, etc.

Attention! If you receive a warning when surfing the Internet that your computer is infected with viruses, spyware or the like, ignore it, especially if a program for eliminating the alleged infection is offered at the same time. Ironically, this is probably malware. Check your computer, but only with programs whose origin is known beyond any doubt. In the case of a suspected infection, due to the high technical level of many spyware programs, we recommend the use of special programs for detecting and removing spyware.

Interesting background information

The entry about spyware (and adware) from the Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI)

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