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What is Spyware?

Spyware is a type of malicious software that enters your computer or mobile device without consent in order to gain access to your personal information and data and relays it to a third party. Considered a type of malware, spyware spies on the computer user, capturing keystrokes, emails, documents, or even turning on the video camera.

Spyware has been a part of the public discourse since the mid-90s and in the early 2000s the term “spyware” began being used by cybersecurity companies in much of the same way that it is used today. Today, spyware continues to be the most common threat on the internet and because of the way it quietly infiltrates your computer, it can be extremely hard to detect.

Types of Spyware & Other Related Malicious Malware Terms

Trojans

A type of malicious software that disguises itself as legitimate. Often acting as an important update or file, you are tricked into letting the spyware in. It then either steals, disrupts, or damages your personal data. 

Adware

A type of tracking software that tracks your browser history in order to sell your data to advertisers so that they can better target you with ads. Adware can either be used for legitimate purposes or malicious ones. In addition to advertising, the adware may include spyware that spies on the user’s computer activities and browser preferences without their knowledge.

Ransomware

Limits or blocks users from accessing individual files or entire systems until a ransom is paid. Sometimes, these attacks may use the information found in a spyware attack to demand a ransom. 

Dropper

A type of malicious software used to install spyware code. They are often designed to avoid detection from traditional anti-visual protection solutions. 

Internet Tracking/Cookies

Tracking cookie files can also be placed into your server in order to track your web activity and used for malicious marketing purposes. 

System Monitors

There are a number of applications that can be deceitfully added to your computer like Keyloggers, Infostealers, and Password Stealers, in order to track any activity on your computer like keystrokes, chatroom dialogues, websites visited, as well as collect sensitive information like passwords and health data.

Keyloggers

Also referred to as system monitors, these are applications that capture computer activity via screenshots to capture keystrokes, search history, email discussions, chatroom conversation, websites visited and more. 

Infostealers

An application that scans infected computers with the goal of collecting personal information like usernames, passwords, documents, spreadsheets, and then transmits the information to a remote server. 

Password Stealers

A malicious application that steals passwords from infected computers or mobile devices. 

How Does Spyware Work?

1. Device Infiltration

Spyware has the potential to infiltrate your device due to a number of factors:

  • Your device has security vulnerabilities – such as backdoors and exploits.
  • Phishing and spoofing – when criminals try to get you to perform an action like open a malware-infected file or asking you to give up your password credentials.
  • Misleading marketing – marketing tactics can be effective in tricking users to download their spyware program by presenting it as a useful tool.
  • Software bundles – Free software packages are appealing to users and criminals may conceal a malicious add-on, plug-in, or extension to these software programs.
  • Trojan horses – Malicious code or software disguised as legitimate but used for the purpose of entering one’s computer and disrupting, damaging, or stealing. 
  • Mobile device spyware – Malicious apps for Android or Apple users that either contain harmful code, are disguised as legitimate apps or contain fake download links.

2. Steal your Data

Once the spyware is downloaded to your computer, it then begins tracking your online activity via keystrokes, screen captures, web searches, and more, in order to collect your data

3. Sends Data to a Third Party

After the spyware collects your data, it then sends it to a third party source or used directly.

What Types of Problems Are Caused By Spyware?

Identity and Data Theft

When personal information like email accounts, saved passwords for online banking, credit card information, and social security numbers, is stolen, it can be used for the purpose of identity theft.

Computer and System Damages

Spyware software is often poorly designed and has the potential to drain your computer’s energy, memory, and processing power. This can result in severe lags between opening applications, your computer overheating, and even the system crashing.

Browsing Disturbances

Spyware can manipulate your search engines into delivering unwanted websites that are either fraudulent or dangerous. You may also be faced with unwanted advertisements appearing in the form of pop-ups or banners, causing annoyances. 

What Are Signs of Spyware Infiltration?

Here are some of the signs you may have been infiltrated by spyware:

  • Your device is running slowly
  • You’re being redirected to pages you didn’t navigate to
  • You’re feeling annoyed by pop-ups
  • Your usual homepage isn’t appearing
  • You’re noticing icons of applications you don’t remember downloading
  • You’re noticing add ons or plug-ins you don’t remember downloading 

Examples of Spyware

Internet Optimizer

A program that disguised itself by promising to improve internet speed, but instead, replaced all error and login pages with advertisements

CoolWebSearch

Takes advantage of security vulnerabilities in your Internet Explorer to hijack it, change the settings, and collect your data.

Zlob

Uses security vulnerabilities to enter into one’s computer and record search histories and keystrokes. It is also known as Zlob Trojan. 

Gator

Monitors victim’s web surfing habits and uses the information to target them with ads.

Who Do Spyware Authors Target?

Spyware authors do not have one specific target – instead, they intend on targeting as many potential groups as possible. Therefore, everyone is susceptible to spyware. Spyware authors are more concerned about what they are after rather than who they are after.

What to Do if You Suspect Spyware 

Clean your System of Infection

Run a scan to identify any malicious software present and use a reputable virtual removal tool to clear your device. Of course, do be mindful of accidentally downloading even more spyware. 

Contact Necessary Parties of Fraudulent Activity

Contact your employer, bank, financial institution, or enterprise of any potential fraudulent activity that may have occurred.

Contact Local Law Enforcement

If your data has been stolen, and especially if it is sensitive in nature, you should alert your local law enforcement.

How to Protect Yourself from Spyware 

  • Don’t open emails from unknown senders
  • Avoid clicking on pop-up advertisements
  • Update your computer or mobile device regularly
  • Don’t open suspicious email attachments or files
  • Mouse over suspicious links before clicking to see where you’ll be taken
  • Adjust browser settings to a higher security level
  • Know that “free” is almost never free and these are often false advertisements 
  • Read the terms and conditions of anything you download
  • Use a reputable malware protection software like Cyren  

Final Thoughts

Ready to make sure your business is protected against spyware? Read more about state-of-the-art spyware protection from Cyren.

Feb 14, 2022 | Malware

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