Whether you realize it or not, there are probably individuals and organizations that are tracking your online activities. Your web browser may contain cookies, for instance, that disclose your browsing activities to websites and online services. There’s also the possibility that your computer is infected with spyware, which can prove even more harmful to your personal privacy than standard cookies.

What Is Spyware?

Spyware is a classification of computer software that’s designed to collect — and in some cases transmit — data from a target victim’s computer without his or her knowledge. It’s called “spyware” because it “spies” on your online activities.

Unlike malware, spyware isn’t intended to cause malicious harm. It’s only designed to capture your data. With that said, it’s still a good idea to remove all instances of spyware on your computer. If spyware goes unnoticed, it could lead to several potential problems.

How Spyware Works

There are countless different types of spyware, some of which work in different ways than others. Tracking spyware, for example, works by tracking your online activities. It creates a record of all the websites, social media networks and other online places that you visit. Keylogging spyware, as the name suggests, logs your keystrokes. Whether you’re typing an email for a coworker or logging in to your online accounts, it will capture all of your keystrokes.

Spyware is often used in conjunction with adware. An online retailer may use tracking spyware to determine which products you are interested in purchasing. Next, he or she may deploy adware onto your computer that promotes these products.

The Impact of a Spyware Infection

If your computer is infected with spyware, you can expect slower speeds and poorer performance. Because it’s a type of software, it consumes computer resources. Therefore, if your computer becomes infected with spyware, it may cause a longer delay when running other programs or browsing and using the internet.

When used in conjunction with adware, spyware can prove even more disastrous to your computer’s performance. Like spyware, adware consumes computer resources, so it will naturally slow down your computer as it runs in the background.

Spyware, of course, leaves you vulnerable to data breaches. Depending on the type of spyware, it may capture some of your sensitive data — and that data could be used for illicit purposes later. To keep your computer running fast, as well as protect against data breaches, you need to prevent spyware infections.