Spyware is a program that spies on the online behavior of web users and relays the information to third parties in order to target them with personalized advertising or to change the configuration of their computer. The results are sent by email to the author which he will use to draw conclusions on the advertising behavior. Advertising effectiveness can be increased and more specifically targeted by use of individually coordinated methods.

Spyware is installed on workstations and is considered potentially dangerous. It is downloaded to the user PC, for example, by Trojans or emails.

Development of spyware

The development of spyware in the last few years can be viewed from two perspectives.

1.) On the one hand, it can be observed that the number of attacks on private computers and company computers is increasing. Recently an attack took place, in which 16 million email accounts were hacked. This attack is referred to as a keylogger or identity theft and is only one form of attack on computers. Data from various security companies make the developments over recent years makes this very clear. In 2012, the number of attacks increased by 42% compared to the previous year. Of these, 31% were directed to small companies with fewer than 250 employees. And the number of registered attacks on mobile phones rose by 58% from 2011 to 2012.[1] This is only data from one security company and these figures represent only the actually detected attacks. It is very likely that representative data from multiple companies would show significantly higher numbers of attacks.

2) On the other hand, IT experts point out that the mechanisms used to steal data or steal control over computers are becoming more and more sophisticated. The spyware that is the most widespread, in other words, spies on the most computers, is often the most intelligent software. Spyware not only attempts to infiltrate a computer, but also to remain undetected. By integrating it into important, system-immanent processes and files, it often does remains undetected and reaches passwords and other data without being noticed by the user or anti-spyware programs.

Dangers posed by spyware

If confidential information, such as a sequence of keystrokes, user names, email addresses, or contact details, are entered by the logged-in user, spyware can become a serious threat. Certain types of spyware may cause changes to the computer that may cause a system slowdown or crash. These programs are, for example, able to change the homepage or search page of the browser, or insert additional and non-usable components, which can only be reset with great effort.

Signs of spyware

There are certain signs indicating a possible infection with spyware. If the performance or functioning of a computer suddenly changes, spyware or other unwanted software may have been installed. Popup advertisements that appear before the Internet is turned on, for example, are an indicator of possible spyware.

If settings have changed and a reset is not possible, it is recommended to react with anti-spyware programs accordingly. If a Web browser contains additional components that are not themselves installed or downloaded, or if a computer is slowing, you should be able to use a software that can remove the spyware.

Actions to prevent spyware

Spyware comes with other programs on the computer or comes from untrustworthy websites. Hackers can also install it directly on your computer by remote access.

  • To prevent spyware or other unwanted programs, a firewall should be used. This can, for example, originate directly from the operating system.
  • Automatic updating of the operating system should be enabled to ensure that the latest and most important security updates are installed.
  • The security settings of the default browser should be set correctly. How much or how little information is accepted by a webpage can be regulated in the settings. Microsoft recommends a medium or high security setting for the Internet networks.
  • Installation of additional anti-spyware software is recommended. Examples are the paid Kaspersky or the freeware SpyBot - Search & Destroy.

Tips on how to protect against spyware

  • Programs should only be downloaded from websites that are trustworthy. In case of uncertainty, a search engine can be used to check whether there are any negative reports regarding the program.
  • To close a window never click buttons such as “I agree,” “I accept” or “OK.” Instead, the red "X" in the window corner or the shortcut ALT + F4 should be used
  • Especially free music and movie sharing programs are to be enjoyed with caution.

Legal foundations

Consumers in Germany are protected by German law. Because paragraph 202a of the Criminal Code (illegitimately obtaining data by spying) spyware is clearly punishable. It says:

1.) Anyone who obtains unauthorized access to data for themselves or a third party which is not intended for them and which is particularly secured against unauthorized access, by breaking access security, will be punished with imprisonment for up to three years or with a fine.

3.) Data in the sense of paragraph 1 only refers to data which is stored electronically, magnetically or otherwise not directly perceptible.

The law applies to all types of identity or data theft: monitors, keyloggers, Trojans, cookies, and adware, for example. Data must be protected against unauthorized access. Consumers should therefore use protection programs and not make their data easily accessible.


  1. Symantec Security Report 2013. symantec.com. Accessed on J24/01/2014