Spyware

Spyware

The internet makes it easier for us to access information and anything else online. However, when you go online, you must be aware of the threats to protect your confidential information. Consumers' data is prone to many attacks from hackers. For businesses and individuals, data is now a precious possession.

That is why hackers tend to use malicious software called spyware to keep an eye on all of your personal information. Spyware is a common threat that helps hackers gain access to your personal information.

They can use that personal data for any illegal activities, such as identity theft, and can lead to other phishing scams as well. One thing about spyware is that it is hard to detect it on your computer. As a result, it is difficult for a user to identify if their computer has this malware or not.

As per stats, intruders carried out more than 5.6 billion malware attacks globally in 2020. Although the figure is down from 2019, which saw more than 9.9 billion malware attacks due to improved cyber security measures, the high number of malware attacks are still concerning.

So, if you are wondering about the common threats of spyware and the protection measures you can take against it, then you have come to the right place. We will cover everything in this article regarding spyware, its types, how cyber security measures can help stop it, how do you remove one. So, without further ado, let's get right into it.

What is Spyware?

Let's start by knowing more about what spyware is all about. It is a kind of malicious software that installs on your computer device without your authorization. The malware then spies on your device to gain access to sensitive personal information without your knowledge.

The spyware aims to gather all your personal information and then send it to external firms for advertising purposes. Therefore, any software that downloads on your device with your authorization is spyware. The main reason many consider spyware as a threat is because of its usage by many people.

Spyware gives others access to your personal information. As a result, they can use your confidential details in any way they want, particularly for illegal activities. It can keep an eye on your login credentials and look at the sensitive information on your computer. Therefore, hackers use spyware to gain bank account details and obtain information regarding your credit card.

In addition, many people can use it for stalking. The case of Stalkerware is a primary example of how spyware helps keep an eye on another person’s activity. It allows users to keep track of the location of another person, eavesdrop on their calls, access their emails, and much more.

The Federal Trade Commission is finalizing orders to ban the Stalkerware provider due to its usage. Detecting spyware can be a challenging task. Since the spyware does not appear on the screen, you cannot find it.

However, few indications give you hints that your device has spyware. It includes:

  • Slowing down of you processor speed

  • Affect on the network connection

  • Impact on the data usage and the battery life if the spyware is in your cell phone

History of Spyware

The exact date to know when spyware came into existence is difficult. Some references tell the term was common during the mid-1990s in the Usenet discussions. By the start of the 21st century, many cyber security companies started using the term more frequently, just as we use it today.

They picked up some software that accesses the computer system without the user's permission, and its main purpose is to spy the activities taking place on the computer. Spyware has been a top issue for many individuals and users since the start of the century.

As the world rapidly increased its reliance on digitalization, cybercriminals used spyware to access the user's private information. Today, spyware is a massive problem for Windows operating system. Since it is the most prevalent operating system, many attackers target it.

But, over the years, spyware attackers are now targeting Apple applications and platforms. The growing usage of Apple is why many spyware developers are now targeting it. And not just computers but smart phone devices are now on the radar of cybercriminals.

How does Spyware Work?

The malicious software can get into your device in several ways without your knowledge. It can either enter via a:

  • Document attachment

  • Malicious website

  • App install package

The least damage that the spyware can cause is in a form of an application that only runs when you start the device and continues to run till your shut it down. You will feel a slow processor and notice more pop-up ads coming up. As a result, it can impact the browser's speed, and ultimately you won't be able to use it.

Spyware is also capable of changing the homepage of the browser. It can always ensure that the homepage opens to an advertisement. It can also reroute searches along with manipulating the results, essentially making the search engine worthless.

Furthermore, spyware might alter the computer's dynamic data catalogs, which are essential to access the internet, leading to connectivity issues that are not easy to diagnose. And this is just the least of the damage the spyware can cause.

The worst damage that the malware will do is keeping an eye on the browsing history and your confidential data. It will track and monitor all your financial details and other records. This information will be either going to a third party or for other illegal purposes.

Spyware usually gathers your information through key loggers or taking snapshots of your screen from time to time. Additionally, it can change your computer's firewall settings and reconfigure them to do more harm to your device. Advanced malware can detect any attempts to remove them from the device and try to block it.

Types of Spyware

Spyware is not just in a single type that can enter your device. It has many different forms to access your data in multiple ways. Here are some common types of spyware that you can find.

Keyboard Loggers Keyboard loggers are common system monitors that not only the cybercriminals use, but:

  • Parents for monitoring their child's search history and internet usage

  • Employers to check on their employees for any data or privacy breaches

  • Individuals to track the usage of their devices for any activity that they did not authorize of

  • Law enforcement or government agencies for cyber security and tracking any incidents relating to computer usage

As for cybercriminals, their main aim is to track your login credentials and other information for your bank or credit cards.

The keyboard loggers can be in two forms: Hardware and Software. Hardware keyboard loggers are in the form of Universal Serial Bus flash drives that are a connector between the keyboard and the device. They track down all the activity happening through the keyboard.

On the other hand, software key loggers don't require any physical connectors. The spyware downloads itself to your computer unbeknownst to you and then tracks all the activity happening on the monitor. They can either be in the form of software or through a remote access called Trojan.

Trojans

The spyware that many cybercriminals use to access your personal information is Trojans. It is a type of spyware program which portrays itself as an official program. Trojans can be installed directly on your computer without your knowledge.

This malware gives remote access to the other user who can delete files, encrypt them or lock you out of these files, or enforce any other spyware activities to get their hands on your personal information. Banking Trojans are a common Trojan that many hackers use.

These Trojans target financial institutions such as brokerage firms, banks, etc., to reap important business information from them. They can transmit the information to another server, alter the transactions, and use other ways that the user and the host web application cannot see.

Password Stealers These are programs or apps that take out the credentials from the computers. This form of spyware can harvest passwords from your browser or your system. The attacker can keep it on your computer or move it to a different server to retrieve it later.

Adware

Another common malware type is the adware that attackers use to track your activity. Adware often comes with software or any shareware program you download from an online site that is infected. Its existence dates back to 1999 when the freeware game Elf Bowling had tracking software.

The most popular form of adware is the cookies that record the personally identifiable information of a user. It helps advertisers to target their audience by understanding their habits. The data that this spyware collect is sold to third parties who can use it any way they want.

Info Stealers

Last but not least, info stealers are also a common type of spyware that attackers use to take out critical information from your computer or mobile device. Like the Trojans, they capitalize on browser security vulnerabilities to gather your personal details.

They can use it to collect documents, spreadsheets, browsing history, login credentials for your financial and personal accounts, etc. The attackers can use the spyware to transfer the information to a remote server or store it into your computer device to retrieve it later.

Problems that the Spyware Can Cause

Spyware is capable of wreaking havoc on your computer systems or other devices. They can start with minor inconveniences and then work to cause financial damages in the long run. Below are some major problems that can arise from spyware.

Disrupt the Browsing Experience

The first thing spyware does to your computer is it ruins your browsing experience through disruptions. It can manipulate and show you results that direct you to fraudulent websites and can cause further damage to your computer or devices.

In addition, spyware can use its capabilities to change the homepages or alter the computer settings on its own. Furthermore, you may experience more pop-ups and unwanted advertisements coming up. It can become annoying as you might see pop-up ads even if you are offline.

Used for Illegal Activities

Besides disrupting your browsing experience, another damage that the spyware can cause is giving your personal information for illegal activities. Identity theft is the topmost illegal activity that occurs due to misuse of your personal information, which goes out due to spyware.

With access to all your personal information and private data, it becomes easy for attackers to steal your identity. They can use the information for multiple purposes. The information available through the spyware programs enable attackers to:

  • Access your social media networking accounts

  • Gives them your login credentials for bank accounts or any other financial services

  • Allows them to siphon off money from your bank account

  • Enables them to know about your browsing history

Once this information ends up in the hands of the creator, they can store it, sell it to another party, or use it to cause financial harm to you.

Damages to your Devices

More often than not, you will have to deal with the potential for spyware to harm your computer. They can cause damages that can impact the device's speed and functionality. Spyware creators usually build the program inadequately, resulting in system slowdown.

The lack of performance optimization might use up a lot of memory, computing power, and internet traffic on your machine. In addition, it can impact the operating system of the devices if they do not have the latest version.

As a result, devices with spyware may stutter and will function slowly when switching between apps or when browsing online. In the worst-case scenario, your system may malfunction frequently or overheat. Therefore, it can lead to irreparable harm.

Furthermore, certain spyware even can deactivate your online security software. It makes it more vulnerable to other cyber-attacks and phishing threats.

How do I Get Spyware?

Spyware developers are now targeting a wide range of operating systems and devices. Initially, their main targets included devices with Windows operating systems. However, with new advancements, attackers can infect Macs, personal computers, and other devices with iOS or Android OS.

In a nutshell, any device that can connect with Wi-Fi is at risk of getting spyware. So, how can you get spyware on your device? Spyware can penetrate through your operating system without your knowledge. It can do it in many ways by giving you the option of:

  • Downloading or opening any email files or documents from unknown sources

  • Accepting a prompt message or any other pop-up notification without first going through it

  • Obtaining software or installing an application from an untrustworthy source

  • Visiting a malware-infected website by clicking on a link

  • Going through sites for the piracy of media like films, audio, videos, and games

Keep in mind that spyware creators can use many decisive ways to trick you. They can attach the spyware package along with the free app or program that might look legitimate. Additionally, they can send you a document through the mail that looks like from a reliable source.

Mobile Spyware

Besides your computer, mobile phones can also have spyware. Since mobile phones have become an integral part of our lives, cybercriminals are now targeting them. Mobile spyware can enter your mobile phone devices in various ways.

Usually, the attackers use the mobile's camera and microphone to tap the mobile phone calls, check browsing activity, and spy on other personal information. The attackers can also use mobile spyware to access your location using the Global Positioning System (GPS) in your phone.

Just like the cyber security measures for computers, there are many measures you can take for your mobile phones. It can keep your data safe and protect your mobile phone from spyware. Many free software and tools can help you spot spyware in your phone and remove it to avoid any damages.

The most common and easy way to transfer this spyware into your device is through SMS or MMS. Since it does not mandate any user interaction, cybercriminals can easily execute commands through it. In addition, there are three other ways:

Insecure Wi-Fi Connections

Mobile spyware can enter your phone through unsafe and insecure Wi-Fi. It is the free Wi-Fi that is available in public places, like shopping malls. Logging into the unsecured network can give cybercriminals access to your phone. As a result, they can track down all the activity on your cell phone.

You should look out for any warning notifications that it displays. If it shows any messages, particularly the one that says unable to verify server identity, you need to avoid connecting to Wi-Fi.

Flaws in the Operating System

Using an old and outdated operating system can make your mobile phone vulnerable to spyware. It is easy for attackers to target any mobile phone system that does not have the latest safety features.

It is why many smart phone manufacturers give new releases of the operating system. New operating systems have all the protocols to protect your mobile from spyware. Therefore, you should instantly update your operating system if there is a newer version available for your mobile phone.

Malicious Applications

Mobile spyware usually comes with malicious apps that look like legitimate applications. These apps have spyware that infects your mobile phone in no time. It is notably the case when you download applications from third-party sources instead of a play store.So, if you are downloading any app from a website or other source, look out if they are asking for access to your files. These applications usually display a warning sign to request permission to your emails or other personal details. It is advisable not to download any apps from unsafe or sketchy sites.

Mac Spyware

As mentioned above, the main target of the spyware creators for the past decades were devices with Windows operating system. But the last few years saw a significant spike in spyware attacks on iOS and Mac users.

Since iOS is the second biggest operating system globally, it is now a top pick for many cybercriminals. The iOS operating system has a strong market share with more than 15% by the 3rd quarter of 2021. Apple's market share has seen a steady rise over the last few years.

Therefore, spyware creators and authors are now targeting the Mac systems. Through the spyware for Mac has familiar functionality and aims for a Windows one, the majority of the Mac spyware is password stealers or general-purpose backdoors.

The general-purpose backdoors enable the spyware authors to:

  • Execute a code remotely
  • Enables them to log the keys of the keyboard
  • Take screenshots of the screen regularly
  • Phishing of password
  • Install or upload any arbitrary file without the user's authorization
  • And much more

Also, you can find legitimate spyware for the Macs. The software is available on a legitimate site for purchase. It can be useful for parents to monitor their kids or employers to monitor the employee's activities. However, it allows users to easily misuse it by accessing spyware capabilities without having any technical understanding.

How to Protect Myself from Spyware?

Spyware can be undetectable, but there are ways to prevent it from entering your device in the first place. To start, you might not download any files or sources from unreliable sources. However, even trustable websites can sometimes bundle with hidden spyware that can infect your entire device.

Therefore, the first thing you should do is get an internet security solution to help you identify and block any spyware or virus. Ensure that they have your security solution has all the functionalities for antivirus and anti-malware detection and prevention.

There are many free solutions that you find by reliable cyber security companies. If the spyware is already in your system, you use the security solution to remove it from your device. However, you must carefully select a trustable internet security provider.

Since the spyware has already infected your system, there is a chance it is tampering with the search engine results. Therefore, it can show you all the solutions that can be another spyware.

While you can find many free anti-malware solutions, you need to ensure it provides you with all the features. Certain solutions lack essential features mandatory for protecting private information from spyware. It is best to look for a solution that has a:

  • Encrypted keyboard to protect your credentials for bank accounts and other financial details

  • An anti-spam filter to block any emails or notifications with possible links to spyware

  • Cloud-based detection system to identify any possible threats

In addition to these tips for the software, here are some steps you can take to safeguard your devices from spyware:

  • Always check the terms and conditions before installing software or application that is free to use. There can be a heavy cost that you would have to bear in the future. These applications can sell your data to third parties.

  • You can download a browser extension to avoid any online tracking. Many tools enable you to keep your data safe by not allowing any malware to track and monitor your data.

  • Make sure you have all your anti-virus and anti-malware up-to-date. The main reason malware can enter your device is through app and OS vulnerabilities. With new updates, you can ensure that your security solutions have all the latest features for preventing any spyware.

Protecting Your Mobile from Spyware

Below are some steps that you can take to protect your cell phone from any programs that can siphon your personal information.

Avoid Using Unofficial App Stores

The easiest way for viruses and spyware to enter your phones is through applications. The unofficial app stores have applications that have malicious software. Therefore, you should avoid installing any app from these app stores.

     __Don't Use the Links in SMS__

Another way for malicious software to enter your mobile phone is by sending you links via SMS or MMS. It is better to avoid such links and only enter the links in the URL that you are sure about.

    __ Reserve from Allowing Access to Apps__

Few applications request access to your files, camera, micphones, and your gallery when there is no need for it. In such a case, you have to stay cautious and think if the app needs access to these things or not.

    __ Install Applications from Official App Publishers__

It is better to know about the publisher before downloading their app. You can read the reviews and look at their company overview. You can check if they are an unofficial company or a third-party offering services.

Protecting Your Computer from Spyware

Below are some precautionary measures for you to safeguard your computer from any programs that can track your personal information.

· Install a Pop-up blocker

You can find a pop-up blocker in various browsers to filter out and block any pop-up ads. They can help to prevent any pop-up with a suspicious link.

· __ Avoid Using any Links or Attachments in Emails__

Another way to send malware to your computer is via a link or attachment in an email. Therefore, you should avoid downloading attachments or using links in emails that you think are spam.

· __ Run able Programs Should be Limited__

Any app or program on your computer needs to only have access to functions that they need. You can go into your settings to check which applications have permissions to different things.

How do you Remove Spyware?

If your computer or mobile is infected by malware, you don't have to worry about it. Spyware is an issue for many users globally. So, if you believe your device has malicious software, you can take care of it by following the steps below.

· Getting Malware Out of your Computer

If you think that your PC or laptop has malware, then here is what you need to find the infection and remove it from your system:

  • Use security software to scan the entire device for any possible malware. It will help to find any spyware and remove it.

  • Install a virus removal tool to remove any viruses that can be a possible threat to your computer.

After completing these steps, you need to secure your device to prevent future malware breaches. Therefore, it is best to download any reputable anti-virus program to save your computer from any such threats.

Getting Malware Out of your Mobile

Since mobile phones now have all our private information, they are subject to malware attacks too. So, if you want to remove malware from your mobile phone, here are some steps you need to take.

  • First things first, delete all the applications on your smart phone that you feel you didn't download or did not use once. You can go to the setting and click on apps that you think are suspicious to uninstall them.

  • Next, you can scan your mobile phone for any virus or malware in your device. Some phones have a built-in application to detect any virus. You can use that one or download any reliable app from the Google or iOS store.

If removing apps and conducting a malware check doesn't work, save your data or any vital information and hard reset your phone.

What to do After Removing the Malware?

Once you remove the malware or any virus from devices, your job is partially complete. You still need to take some more steps to ensure that your confidential information does not go out.

Start by changing your passwords for financial services. It includes all your bank accounts, login credentials, and other key accounts. You can consider changing your social media passwords as well if you want.

The next thing you need to do is call your financial institutions to check any suspicious activity or transaction you did not approve. Though it is not necessary that spyware can access your credit card information, it is better to be safe rather than sorry.

You can also keep an eye on your bank and credit card statement from time to time. If you find anything odd, immediately contact your bank or other financial institution regarding it.

Bottom-line

The growing reliance on technology makes threats like spyware, phishing, etc., a concern for many. Nevertheless, the new cyber security measures are robust enough to deal with such issues.

So, if you are worried about how to deal with virus and malware issues, you need to use a reliable cyber security program. By using a reliable digital solution that offers you maximum protection from any cyber threats and attacks, you can keep your data safe and secure.

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Apr 26, 2020

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