It is often assumed that spyware and malware are interchangeable terms, but the reality is that malware is the general term for any harmful software installed on a computer without the owner's permission. This includes spyware, which is software that hides in the background of a computer, collecting private information that will be used for someone else's gain. Malware is a category of software that encompasses adware, worms, viruses, Trojans, and spyware, meaning that anything that intends to harm the computer or its owner in some way can be put into this group. Spyware is more narrowly defined, as its main intention is typically to collect personal information about the computer user. Fortunately, most anti-malware software can remove both spyware and other types of computer threats.
Spyware and malware in general are often added to the computer when the user accidentally downloads it through a number of methods. For example, clicking links in spam emails or downloading songs and television shows infected with malware are the most common ways to get spyware and malware onto a computer. The best way to avoid this issue is by installing anti-spyware software from a trusted company that will alert computer users to suspicious activity. It is also important to remember to only download from a trusted source, and only click on links in emails that are not from strangers and do not contain suspicious links.
The most common traits of both spyware and malware include the fact that they are both downloaded unknowingly by computer users, and are both usually hard to uninstall. Many types of malware also attempt to change the default Internet browser, allow pop-up advertisements, install other software, and disable security programs on the computer. These traits are most common in adware, Trojans, worms, and viruses, though spyware can also perform these tasks.
While spyware has the ability to cause harm to the computer that it infiltrates, its main purpose is to collect information about the user. The most harmless kind of spyware and malware in general is usually the kind that monitors the activities of the computer user to determine what advertisements would be most appropriate. On the other hand, more harmful types of spyware install keyloggers that record every stroke of the keyboard, permitting the collection of credit card numbers, bank account information, email passwords, and other sensitive personal information. Thus, most types of spyware and malware can be harmful to either the computer, its user, or both.