Once the information is in their hands, hackers can steal your identity, use your credit cards, siphon funds from your bank accounts, and more.
Simply put: it's bad news and you want nothing to do with it.
The good news is that spyware prevention is possible — and there are many ways to keep these dangerous programs at bay.
In addition to installing the right software, consumers can practice these computer security tips from Webroot:
Download software directly from the source. Primary common distributor of spyware information infection is free, pirated programs downloaded from file-sharing sites which have been booby-trapped with malware. Set your browser security settings to "high" and protect yourself from "drive-by" downloads and automatic installations of unwanted programs.
Avoid questionable websites, such as those featuring adult material. They're notorious for spreading spyware threats and causing users problems.
Use a firewall and be suspicious of email and IM. For instance:
- Don't open attachments unless you know the sender and are expecting a file from him or her.
- Delete messages you suspect are spam (don't even open them).
- Avoid clicking on links within messages.
- Do not provide personal information to unsolicited requests — even if they seem legitimate. Instead, if you receive a request for personal information from your bank or credit card company, contact that financial institution directly, but do not click on a link embedded in the email message.