University of Southern California

What Is Spyware?

Posted on by mechling

What is spyware?

Spyware is loosely defined as a type of malicious software, also known as malware, that runs in the background of a computer, collecting private information and transmitting it to a third party without the user’s knowledge.

How does spyware affect my machine?

Spyware can take on many different forms, including: 

  • Adware, spyware that displays unwanted advertising on your machine. Not all adware is unauthorized; some companies’ user agreements authorize them to install adware on your machine, allowing them to deliver you individualized advertisements.
  • Keylogger, spyware that logs your keystrokes in order to collect personal information such as passwords and PINs.
  • Browser hijacker, spyware that changes your web browser settings in order to redirect you to certain websites.

How can I protect myself against spyware?

The best way to protect your system is to block spyware before it can be installed on your machine.

  • Be selective about what you download. Use extreme caution when deciding whether to download free software. USC provides free and safe-to-download software at
  • Do not click links in pop-up windows, which may download spyware to your computer without your knowledge. To shut a pop-up window, click the “x” in the upper right corner.
  • Download antivirus software. All USC students, faculty, and staff can download Sophos Endpoint Security antivirus software free from

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