Many people wonder: what is the difference between spyware, keyloggers, stalkerware, and adware? Bad actors can use all three tools to invade your privacy in different ways. However, each tool can be different from the other. Surprisingly, some privacy-invading tools have legitimate uses too.

1. Spyware

Spyware is a general term for a sneaky type of malicious software. Hackers, trolls, crooks, and even state-sponsored agents can use spyware to spy on their targets. Spyware may transmit screenshots without your knowledge to its author and breach your security and privacy. The screenshot may contain your usernames, passwords, emails, credit card data, word documents, intellectual property, and more.

Using spyware, a hacker can break into your email or bank accounts and steal your money. Alternatively, they may list the stolen information on the dark web for sale leading to identity theft.

The most dangerous thing about spyware is that it can display very few symptoms. Your computer may slow down, crash, or throw mysterious popup windows. You may notice your storage drive working overtime without reason or your webcam activating without cause. That’s why it’s a good idea to regularly run the best free spyware scanner you can find to check for the malware on your computer. 

2. Keyloggers

Keyloggers are a type of spyware that records your keystrokes for their authors. There are two types of keyloggers:

  • Software keyloggers: The software variety are simply applications that allow others to monitor your keystrokes. Newer, more sophisticated keyloggers can also have broader spyware functions such as capturing screenshots. A good anti-malware cybersecurity tool may be able to detect a keylogger on your system.
  • Hardware keyloggers: These keyloggers are embedded in hardware, like keyboards. They can also be in USB drives, PS2 cable extensions, wall chargers, and other pieces of hardware. Hardware keyloggers are more challenging to detect. However, they usually must be retrieved physically by the hacker. Unfortunately, some keyloggers have WiFi capabilities.

Although cybercriminals and industrial espionage agents use keyloggers, organizations also use them to monitor their employees. Sometimes, they can help companies investigate a bad incident, such as stolen data. Controversially, some parents also use keyloggers to keep an eye on the browsing habits of their kids.

3. Stalkerware

Stalkerware is a dangerous type of spyware that stalkers, jealous lovers, ex-partners, and other abusers use to track their targets. Stalkerware can allow threat actors to listen in on conversations, see people, or follow their movements. The dangerous nature of the malware has forced many organizations to develop a Coalition Against Stalkerware.

4. Adware

Although adware is not particularly dangerous, it can be pretty annoying. Marketers use adware to promote products or services on your computer or quietly collect data about your browsing habits without your consent to generate revenue.

Adware can hit your screen with popup ads or take over your browser with plugins. It can even redirect your homepage. Aside from being annoying, adware can slow down or crash your browser. It can also slow down your Internet when communicating with outsiders.

These are the differences between spyware, keyloggers, stalkerware, and adware. Avoid all four by using good cybersecurity software and staying away from malicious links, downloads, and websites.