Knowing the Basics of Spyware and Adware
computer software that is installed surreptitiously on a personal computer to intercept or take partial control over the user's interaction with the computer, without the user's informed consent.
In contrast adware, also called advertising-supported software, is described as:
any software package which plays, displays, or downloads advertisements to a computer automatically, either after the software is installed, or while it is being used.
The confusion arises in that many adware applications in fact include spyware within. It makes it far more difficult to discern whether the adware program you installed is doing more than just popping up advertisements.
Supporters of adware say that though consumers may find the advertising bothersome, it is the price they pay for receiving "free" software. The ad revenue enables the developers to be financially rewarded for their work, the advertisers get their message in front of thousands (or more) of eyes, and the users get software with no monetary cost.
Many shareware software programs that incorporate adware have the option of removing the ads, upon payment of the licensing fee. This provides users the opportunity to trial the software, but eliminate the ads if desired.
For those programs that include spyware (and they aren't always adware programs), there is a far more incidious problem. Spyware, not suprisingly, allows a third party to "spy" on your computer. The spyware is a software that places a tracking device within the computer system.
This tracking software, depending on how it's programmed, can look into your web surfing logs, your chat history, etc. It can even discover things like how often you check your email.
Because the spyware runs in the background, behind the scenes, it is invisible to most users, and there is no way to restrict the information being sent to the originator of the spyware.
Origins of Spyware
Some forms of spyware evolved out of programs used by parents, or suspicious employers, to track what children or wayward employees were doing on their computers. Programs were developed to record information like that mentioned above, or to record keystrokes. Now, with spyware, the keystrokes that are recorded might be your online banking password!
Risks vs. Benefits
Because it is very difficult to know whether the advertising supported shareware you just downloaded is legitimate, or contains spyware that will cause you much grief, it is important to take precautions. Make sure you are downloading from a trusted source. Use software on your computer designed to protect you from attack. And make educated decisions.