Spyware refers to malicious software that’s designed to get into your computer device, collect personal information about you, and pass it to a third-party without your permission. It can also be utilized for commercial purposes as it monitors your data. This blog explains the definition of spyware, its different types, spyware examples and spyware prevention methods.
As evident from the name Spyware is a type of malware that puts your online security at risk. In the past few years, the usage of Spyware has increased, which serves as a constant threat to your data.
What is Spyware?
Spyware is a piece of malicious software used by hackers to access and steal personal data from a victim’s device. The data is then sent to advertisers, data collection companies or malicious third-parties to make profit. It operates by infecting your device and affecting its functionality.
Spyware has now become a common threat on the web. Generally, it used to be installed in Windows desktop browsers, but over time, it evolved to operate on Apple computers and mobile phones too. The reason it has become common on mobile devices is because people rely on their phones to conduct banking transactions and access other information.
Does that mean all software that tracks online activity is malicious?
No! Because we know today that some websites use tracking cookies, which are not malicious since they serve a legitimate function and are used to customize a user’s website experience by knowing your login information.
What makes Spyware lethal is that it is very difficult to identify as it is usually masked and can sit in your device unnoticed, however in extreme cases, it may cause noticeable lag, and in some cases, it may charge your credit card with small amounts, hence if this happens, you must immediately seek help as your device is potentially infected by a Spyware.
Types of Spyware
Like computer viruses, Spyware can also be classified into diverse types. Here is a list of the most widely known types of spyware:
This is the type of Spyware that specifically targets user data such as passwords, personal and financial details, and documents. It sits on your device unidentified and passes the sensitive information to the hacker. The information could thereafter be sold or used by the hacker for their own benefit.
Infostealers are often Trojan viruses, which means that once activated, they would start gathering sensitive personal information from different files and folders and send it to the hackers.
In some cases, the infostealers make the user fill out browser forms to send information to the hacker: hence, it is advised that users refrain from filling out third-party forms. Moreover, infostealers are also used to access and steal stuff from the gallery; therefore, as a user, you must be vigilant of them.
As implied from the name, keyloggers are Spyware that monitors and records your keyboard activity. These are also sometimes referred to as ‘System Monitors’ as they continuously monitor your system activity. This monitoring enables them to steal your passwords and financial details, which can later be used to impersonate you.
This is the oldest spyware type that is used most across the world. If your device is infected by keylogger Spyware, your entire system activity becomes vulnerable; therefore, it is important to scan your device every few days to ensure that Spyware has not infected it.
The most frequently used Spyware, PhoneSpy is a Spyware that enters the victim’s phone camouflaged as another software or mobile application. It usually presents itself as a web browser extension or a game. Therefore, it is not easy to catch it early, and hence it is advised that you always download software and mobile applications from reputable providers and developers.
PhoneSpy can gather all sorts of information from the victim’s phone, from personal details such as SSN and credit card details to photos and videos.
PhoneSpy can also use GPS tracking to keep an eye on the victim’s moment. Government intelligence agencies also use PhoneSpy for information extraction.
Adware could also be considered a type of Spyware as it monitors and records browsing history, which is later shared with marketers around the globe. However, since this is done without notifying the user, Adware is also regarded as a type of Spyware.
The collected data is used to display relevant ads to the user. Although the data collected is used for marketing purposes only, if it falls into the wrong hands, it could be used against you. Moreover, Adware also slows down the device and increases the lag time.
Commercial Spyware is the one that is readily available on the internet and can be used to monitor internet traffic. Primarily, parents use these to monitor the online browsing history of children; however, the business owner also uses them to restrict employee activity on the internet.
Moreover, VPNs also fall under the umbrella of commercial Spyware, and since they also help conceal the browser history, they could also be used for spying.
There are several examples of Spyware operating in cyberspace, so users need to take cyber security seriously. Here is a list of a few known examples of Spyware.
NSO Group Spyware
NSO Group is an Israeli Spyware company that WhatsApp is accused of accessing the data of 1400 users, who were targeted because of their activism against the Togo government. These included diplomatic officials, journalists, and other human rights activists.
In 2021, it was found that several legitimate Pakistani apps had Trojanized versions, which marketed themselves as legitimate apps but were actually used to steal personal data and send it to the Command and Control centers of Europe.
How to identify Spyware?
Identifying Spyware has always been complex, as hackers and programmers use camouflage techniques to mask it as legitimate software.
Here are a few ways that could help you identify Spyware:
- The device is working slower than usual.
- The hard drive has less available space, and apparently, there are no new apps installed.
- A few unidentified apps appear on your device
- The frequent appearance of annoying pop-ups
- The presence of unknown bookmarks and plugins in your browser
If you happen to observe any of the above changes, you must not ignore them as your device could be affected by Spyware.
How to get rid of Spyware?
Once you have successfully identified Spyware on your device, the next step is to remove it.
Here are a few steps you must follow to do so:
- Immediately change all passwords and use new stronger ones
- Immediately update all apps
- Notify people who you recently coordinated with, as they might also be infected
- Perform a proper system checkup and remove the Spyware
Cyber security has attained utmost importance in the 21st century, and hence it is crucial that if your device is affected by Spyware, you notify the cyber authorities of your area so that they can take the necessary action and mitigate the danger.
How to Prevent Spyware?
Once Spyware infects your device, there is little you can do; therefore, you must take all mandatory steps to prevent the Spyware from infecting your device.
Here is a list of tips that can help you prevent Spyware infection in the first place :
- Avoid clicking on suspicious links and ads
- Always scan attachments before downloading
- Keep your software and apps updated
- Make use of pop-up blockers.
- Keep your devices operating systems up-to-date.
- Keep a screen lock on your smartphone with strong passwords.
This piece serves as an ultimate guide to Spyware, its types, and how you as a user can implement cyber security. It is to be noted that identifying Spyware early is crucial.
However, given that it portrays itself as a legitimate app or software, it is difficult to do so, and hence the steps mentioned above could help in doing so.
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