Spyware Laws

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 What Is Spyware?

Spyware is a type of malicious software (“malware”) that is installed on a device without the owner’s knowledge with the intention of collecting information about the owner or their interactions with the device. Spyware can collect a variety of information, including internet browsing habits, user logins, and sensitive financial information. It is usually installed on devices through deceptive means, such as by being bundled with other software or by clicking on malicious links.

Spyware collects information by monitoring user activity on the device where it’s installed. Here’s how this can happen.


Some spyware has the capability to track every keystroke you make on your keyboard. This type of spyware is often used to collect sensitive information such as usernames and passwords, credit card information, and other personal data. For instance, if you log into your online banking account, the spyware can record your username and password and transmit this information to a third party.

  • Scenario: Jane downloads a seemingly harmless program from the internet. Unbeknownst to her, it contains a keylogger. When she enters her credit card information to make an online purchase, the spyware records the keystrokes and sends the information to the cybercriminal who created it.

Screen Capturing

Some spyware can take screenshots of your device, capturing information displayed on the screen. This can capture sensitive data such as financial statements, personal messages, or other confidential documents.

  • Scenario: John receives an email with an attached document that, unknown to him, contains spyware. The spyware takes screenshots while he is reviewing his financial statements and sends those screenshots to the attacker.

Data Harvesting

Some spyware can access files and documents stored on your device, scanning for sensitive information. This can include financial data, personal photos, emails, and more.

  • Scenario: Sarah installs a free photo-editing app that she found online, which unfortunately contains hidden spyware. The spyware scans her saved files and uploads her personal photos and documents to a remote server.

Browser Hijacking

Spyware can modify your internet browser settings, redirecting your homepage or search results to unwanted websites or capturing information about your browsing habits.

  • Scenario: David notices that his browser homepage has changed, and he keeps getting redirected to random websites. Unbeknownst to him, a spyware program is controlling his browser settings.

The information collected by spyware is often sent to a third party, often a cybercriminal or an advertising company. They might use this information for identity theft, fraudulent transactions, blackmail, targeted advertising, or even selling the information to other criminals on the dark web.

Preventing spyware infections requires vigilance. This includes only downloading software from trusted sources, not clicking on suspicious links or attachments, keeping your operating system and antivirus software up to date, and regularly scanning your computer for malware. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of spyware, you should contact a cybersecurity professional or a knowledgeable intellectual property attorney for guidance.

Why Is Spyware Dangerous?

Spyware is dangerous for several reasons, outlined below.

Privacy Violations

Spyware, by its very nature, is designed to invade users’ privacy. It can monitor every action performed on a device, from the websites visited to the messages sent. It can also access sensitive information stored on the device, such as personal documents or photos. Even seemingly innocuous data, like browsing habits, can be used to build a detailed profile of a user, which can then be sold or misused.

  • Example: Consider a business professional who uses her computer for both personal and professional tasks. If spyware were installed on her device, it could capture sensitive business strategies, client information, or proprietary data, leading to significant economic damage to the business. At the same time, it could also gather personal information such as medical records, private conversations, or details about her personal life, causing a significant invasion of privacy.

Identity Theft

The information spyware collects—such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, addresses, and dates of birth—can be used to impersonate individuals, open fraudulent accounts, make unauthorized transactions, or even manipulate medical records. Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences, impacting credit scores and causing significant financial loss and stress.

  • Example: Imagine a situation where spyware records a person’s online banking login credentials. The attacker could use these credentials to access the person’s bank account, transfer money, apply for loans or credit cards, or make purchases, all under the victim’s name. The victim might not realize this until they see unfamiliar transactions on their statements, by which point considerable damage might have been done.

System Performance

Spyware can significantly degrade the performance of a device. It often runs in the background, consuming valuable processing power and memory. This can cause the device to slow down, drain the battery faster, use more data, and even crash or become unresponsive.

  • Example: A student has unknowingly downloaded spyware onto his laptop. Over time, he notices that his laptop has become slow and unresponsive, making it difficult for him to complete his assignments or participate in online classes. The spyware running in the background is hogging his system resources, reducing the overall performance of his device.

Unwanted Ads and Content

Some spyware programs are used to deliver targeted advertisements. This can lead to an excessive number of pop-up ads, redirected web pages, changed homepages, or even the installation of unwanted toolbars or software. These annoyances can make browsing the internet frustrating and less productive.

  • Example: A music enthusiast downloads a free music player that comes bundled with spyware. Soon, he finds his browsing interrupted by incessant pop-up ads for music-related products and services. His search engine has also been replaced with an unfamiliar one that provides poor search results and more ads. The spyware has taken control of his browsing experience, making it difficult for him to find the information he needs.

In all these cases, spyware poses a significant threat to users, both in terms of their privacy and the functionality of their devices. It’s essential to remain vigilant, understand the risks, and take steps to protect against these potential harms.

Is Spyware Legal?

In general, the use of spyware is illegal. It can violate laws related to privacy, hacking, and unfair trade practices. However, there are some instances in which monitoring software is legal — for example, when used by parents to track their minor children’s internet activity or by employers to monitor employees’ use of company devices, provided they have received appropriate consent.

What Types of Legal Claims Does Spyware Present?

Spyware can present various legal claims, including:

  • Violations of Privacy: Since spyware collects personal data without consent, it can lead to claims for violation of privacy.
  • Unfair Competition: Businesses that use spyware to gather confidential information from competitors could be accused of unfair competition.
  • Criminal Offenses: Installing spyware could also be considered a criminal offense under hacking laws, such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in the U.S.
  • Unfair Trade Practices: If a business uses spyware to mislead customers or gain an unfair advantage, it could be accused of unfair trade practices.

How Can an Attorney Help Me?

If you’ve been a victim of spyware, an entertainment lawyer can help you understand your rights and the potential legal remedies available to you. They can help you file a lawsuit for damages, if applicable, and guide you through the complexities of the legal process. If you’re a business owner, they can also help you develop best practices to prevent spyware infections and other cybersecurity threats.

If you need help with a spyware issue, consider reaching out to a lawyer through LegalMatch. LegalMatch can connect you with a local attorney who handles your type of case and can provide you with legal advice and guidance tailored to your unique situation.


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