If you're not running an anti-spyware program then your computer and your personal information could be left wide open for hackers to get their hands on. Unfortunately, most computers have spyware on them or at least they've had it in the past. Your computer is most vulnerable if you frequently download free programs such as games, screen savers, free software applications or other tools.
However, even if you don't download this type of software, you could still unintentionally install spyware. Most of the time, spyware is installed along with another application so you might not even be aware you're agreeing to have this extra spyware software installed. The damage spyware can do can range from annoyance to downright criminal. Often times, spyware will rear it's ugly head in the form of popups or other types of advertisements. These are annoying and can force you to see how fast you can close the windows before the new one pops open, but in general they aren't particularly harmful. On the other hand, some spyware can take up nearly all of your system resources as it "does its thing", causing your computer to start to run slowly.
Again, this is more annoying than harmful, at least on its surface. But eventually, this type of behavior can cause your system to operate unreliably, cause programs to freeze up or the computer to crash or restart. This can be particularly problematic if you use your computer for business, but even the casual computer user can end up with lost data, corrupted files or a computer that just doesn't work like it should. On the far end of the spectrum, you have the type of spyware that can lead to criminal activity such as identity theft and fraud.
Some spyware programs use tools called keyloggers to monitor your keystrokes-yes, ALL of your keystrokes. This includes usernames and passwords you might use to carry out personal tasks like sending email, checking your bank accounts or ordering products online. Once this information is collected, it is sent (via the internet connection YOU are paying for) back to the spyware software creator. That person might just be doing this for the thrill of seeing what kind of info they can get, or they might have more malicious intent such as stealing your credit card information or other financial motives. If you currently aren't running an anti-spyware program, you should consider investing in one immediately.
A good anti-spyware program is essential for today's computer user, just like an anti-virus program however both tools are needed since they typically accomplish different tasks and are designed to find specific threats. With a good spyware program and some basic information on how to avoid it, you should be able to rest easy knowing your computer system has minimal chance of being compromised by spyware.
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