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Effects and behaviors of spyware

300px-sr Many Internet Explorer add-on toolbars monitor the user’s activity. When installed and run without the user’s consent, such add-ons count as spyware. Here multiple toolbars (including both spyware and innocuous ones) overwhelm an Internet Explorer session.

A piece of spyware rarely “lives” alone: an affected computer can rapidly become infected with large numbers of spyware components. Users frequently notice unwanted behavior and degradation of system performance. A spyware infestation can create significant unwanted CPU activity, disk usage, and network traffic—slowing down legitimate uses of these resources. Stability issues—application or system crashes—are also common. Spyware which interferes with the networking software commonly causes difficulty connecting to the Internet.

When Microsoft Windows users seek technical support—whether from computer manufacturers, Internet service providers, or other sources—spyware infection emerges as the most common cause. In many cases, the user has no awareness of spyware and assumes that the system performance, stability, and/or connectivity issues relate to hardware, to Microsoft Windows installation problems, or to a virus. Some owners of badly infected systems resort to buying an entire new computer system because the existing system “has become too slow”. Badly infected systems may require a clean reinstall of all their software in order to restore the system to working order. This can become a time-consuming task, even for experienced users.

Only rarely does a single piece of software render a computer unusable. Rather, a computer rarely has only one infection. As the 2004 AOL study noted, if a computer has any spyware at all, it typically has dozens of different pieces installed. The cumulative effect, and the interactions between spyware components, typically cause the stereotypical symptoms reported by users: a computer which slows to a crawl, overwhelmed by the many parasitic processes running on it. Moreover, some types of spyware disable software firewalls and anti-virus software, and/or reduce browser security settings, thus opening the system to further opportunistic infections, much like an immune deficiency disease. Documented cases have also occurred where a spyware program disabled other spyware programs installed by its competitors.

Some other types of spyware (Targetsoft, for example) modify system files to make themselves harder to remove. (Targetsoft modifies the “Winsock” Windows Sockets files. The deletion of the spyware-infected file “inetadpt.dll” will interrupt normal networking usage.) Unlike users of many other operating systems, a typical Windows user has administrator-level privileges on the system, mostly for the sake of convenience. Because of this, any program which the user runs (intentionally or not) has unrestricted access to the system. Spyware, along with other threats, has led some Windows users to move to other platforms such as Linux or Apple Macintosh, which such malware targets far less frequently.

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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