The terms "spyware" and "adware" apply to several different technologies. The two important things to know about spyware and adware programs is that 1) they can download themselves onto your computer without your permission (typically when you visit an unsafe Web site) and 2) they can make your computer do things you don't want it to do. That might be as simple as opening an advertisement you didn't want to see. In the worst cases, spyware can track your online movements, steal your passwords, logons and other credentials (using what's known as a keystroke logger) leading to compromised accounts and possible identity theft and financial loss.
Spyware is becoming increasingly difficult for computer users to detect on their own. The goal of spyware is to collect data and it can run on your computer without you ever knowing it's there.
Visit www.stopbadware.org for more advice.
If you believe your computer has become infected with spyware, immediately stop using Web sites and software that requires you to use a login, a password and submit personal information. Make sure you have the most recent updates of your anti-spyware program, and then scan your computer for spyware . Delete all programs and files your anti-spyware is suspicious of. If you are extremely concerned, consider disconnecting your computer from the Internet once the software is updated and only reconnect when you are sure the problems are resolved.
Be aware that spyware can be used in the crimes of domestic violence and stalking. Perpetrators of these crimes are trying to track their victim's movements and communications. These cases can be extremely dangerous. If you believe you are victim of these crimes, contact a local victim service provider or the National Center for Victims of Crime (www.ncvc.org) at 800-FYI-CALL. Be extremely careful when using your computer under these circumstances. If need be, use a public computer so a perpetrator cannot see your browsing history or any planning you may have underway. Domestic violence and stalking are crimes in every state; contacting law enforcement is an important option worth considering.
Learn more about efforts to combat spyware at: www.antispywarecoalition.org and www.onguardonline.gov, the Federal Trade Commission Web site for Internet safety.