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What are the consequences of spyware activity?

Unprotected Windows-based computers, particularly those used by children or credulous adults, can rapidly accumulate a great many spyware components: several hundred individual instances is common. The consequences of a moderate to severe spyware infection (privacy issues aside) generally include a substantial loss of system performance (over 50% in severe cases), and major stability issues (crashes and hangs). Difficulty connecting to the Internet is another common symptom.

Spyware infection is now responsible for more visits to professional computer repairers than any other single cause. In more than half of these cases, the user is unaware of the spyware problem and initially assumes that the system performance, stability, and/or connectivity issues are related to hardware, Windows installation problems, or a virus.

Some spyware products have additional consequences. Dialers attempt to connect directly to a particular telephone number rather than to the user's own Internet Service Provider: where the number in question is overseas, this can result in massive telephone bills which the user has no choice but to pay.

Much worse than your computer performances, is the violation of your privacy. The very essence of spyware is to collect as much information as possible to identify your behaviors for marketing purposes. The websites you visit and the time of the day when you browse the Internet are only a couple of examples. As a matter of fact, there is no limit to the type of information that spyware can be programmed to transmit.

Particularly worrisome spyware programs are the so called "keyloggers". They log keystrokes and mouse clicks on the computer where they are installed and write them to a file. Usually they have the option of encrypting and decrypting the log files and the option of sending the file to a destination across the Internet. Software keyloggers, as opposed to hardware's, are practically impossible to track once installed. However, key logging can be effectively prevented by adopting good security practices. While keyloggers have many perfectly legal applications, their common utilization in espionage speaks volumes about the implications on the target's privacy.