Adware and spyware are two common cyber threats facing small businesses today. If your small business relies on an information technology (IT) infrastructure to conduct its operations, you need to protect it from both of these cyber threats.

Adware isn’t the same as spyware, however. To develop an iron-clad cybersecurity strategy for your small business, you must understand the nuances between these two cyber threats and how they work.

What Is Adware?

Short for “advertising-supported software,” adware is software deployed on a computer or network that presents the user with ads. As the name suggests, it’s used to advertise products or services. Adware is often packaged with other, more legitimate software. When you install legitimate software on a computer, for example, it may ask you if you’d like to install another program as well. It may not directly refer to the extra software as adware. Nonetheless, you’ll encounter more ads when using your computer after installing the bundled software.

Signs of an adware infection may include:

  • Slower speeds when executing programs and opening new websites
  • Pop-up or pop-under ads
  • Ads featuring personalized information, such as your business’s location
  • New toolbars automatically installed on your web browser
  • Web browser’s homepage was changed
  • Computer randomly freezing or crashing

To put the problem of adware into perspective, a study of 130 businesses conducted by Cisco found that three in four businesses (75%) had experienced at least one instance of an adware infection.

Not all adware is classified as malware. Some forms of adware are completely legitimate, with users knowingly downloading and installing adware to receive ads for relevant products or services.

What Is Spyware?

Spyware, on the other hand, is software deployed on a computer or network that’s used to discreetly capture the user’s data, typically without his or her knowledge. It works by recording the user’s data, after which it sends this captured data to the hacker or organization behind the spyware infection. Spyware is particularly troubling because it can provide hackers with login credentials to your business’s systems.

Signs of a spyware infection may include:

  • Threat detected by antivirus software
  • Unauthorized breaches in your business’s network or other protected systems
  • Slower speeds when executing programs
  • Unknown icons displayed in operating system
  • Unknown programs or processes running in the background

There are several types of spyware, some of the most common being keyloggers, trojans and tracking cookies. Keyloggers are designed to capture keystrokes; trojans are designed to trick the user into downloading and installing the spyware; and tracking cookies are designed to collect users’ data as they browse the internet