What Damage Can Spyware Do?
Bombards You with Advertisements
Spyware is known for displaying advertisements, usually in the form of pop-ups. Each spyware software program works a bit differently with its advertising. Some display ads every couple of minutes, for example, while others will display every time you open a new browser window. The newest trend amongst spyware is to track what the user is doing online. Then, this information is relayed so specific, targeted ads are displayed. For people vulnerable to advertising, these targeted ads can be a great threat.
These pop-up ads can be a great nuisance. Also, pornography pop-up ads are a very common issue with spyware and they are considered particularly heinous because children could be exposed to the porn ads.
Another way in which spyware may advertise is to take over the banner ads. Instead of seeing the advertisement which the site’s creator put up, the viewer sees a spyware ad instead. Because many websites are funded by ads, the spyware is stealing profit from the website owner as well as annoying the viewer with the banner ad.
When a computer is infected with spyware, it must process the spyware applications. All of the tasks that spyware can do from displaying pop-up ads to tracking users are very demanding on a computer’s system. This results in the computer going slower and sometimes drastically slower. If the spyware problem gets out of hand, it is possible for the computer to crash because it can’t handle all of the applications that are being requested from it.
Identity Theft and Fraud
True to its name, there are new versions of spyware which can literally spy on the user. The spyware will take pictures of the websites that a user visits and then relay the pictures back to the spyware source. Since website pages can contain banking information and other personal information, spyware can lead to identity theft. These types of spyware are rare but they still exist. 7
With dial-up internet access, there is also the risk of wire fraud. This occurs when spyware resets a modem to dial up numbers at a premium rate rather than the usually number for the ISP. This results in large phone bills for the user.
One of the common things that spyware does is to change a computer’s configurations. Generally, the web browser homepage will be changed along with the search engine. Spyware can also change security levels and even prevent a user from installing or running antivirus or antispyware programs. Once these changes have been made by the spyware, it is usually very difficult to get the settings back to normal.
For affiliates selling products online, spyware can pose risk for a different type of fraud. When a sale is made through an affiliate, the spyware will fill in the affiliate’s tag with the tag of the spyware operator. Instead of the legitimate affiliate getting paid for the sale, the spyware operate benefits instead. In this case, only the spyware operate is benefiting from the illicit software. The New York Times dubbed this type of affiliate fraud “stealware.”
Spyware has been used to virtually spy on people in several cases. In some cases, spyware was put onto a computer so that the activity of the user could be monitored. The software Loverspy is an example of this type of spyware which was marketed towards people suspecting that their spouse/partner was infidel. There are also instances when spyware was used to turn on webcams so the spyware operator could spy on the user. Depending on the areas where it is used, this type of spyware monitoring may be illegal, even if used by a spouse.