Spyware: Understanding it and Protecting Yourself From its Attacks
Spyware is one of the groups of harmful bugs that exploit individuals’ gadgets worldwide. Ranging from smartphones to personal computers and even commercial systems, spyware usually deals a deadly blow to computers globally.
Interestingly, many people may be browsing the internet, unaware that their computers are spyware-infested.
These seemingly harmless bugs are among the list of malicious bugs you don’t want to joke around with. Hackers can use them to acquire sensitive details about your business, product, or anything precious. Also, they are used primarily to exploit loopholes and gain access to finances or other purposes.
What is Spyware?
Spyware is a kind of malware that infects your mobile device without your awareness or permission. After installing itself on your device, the spyware then tracks your internet activity to gain access to sensitive details such as credit card numbers and other intel.
Notably, spyware is one of the most common malware on the internet that can easily install itself on your device and is quite hard to detect.
On the contrary, it is worth stating that while spyware is renowned for tracking your internet activity, not all software tracks web activity for a malicious purpose.
Kinds of spyware
There are various types of such attacks, with each having unique use cases. Some track your web activity, while others capture secret information or even force unwarranted pop-up ads into your web browser. Thus, we must understand the diverse kinds of spyware to help prevent their infiltration.
A trojan is malware that camouflages legitimate software or apps. Interestingly, the name Trojan emanates from the Greek mythological Trojan Horse and behaves similarly.
Usually, a trojan virus deceives you into installing or permitting its installation on your computer or smartphone. Then, it corrupts, steals, or disrupts your data.
This spyware tracks your web browser history and downloads to learn and predict what services or products you like. Scammers use adware for marketing purposes.
- System monitors
This spyware captures everything an individual does on their smartphone or computer. It is worth noting that system monitors, also called keyloggers, can record all keyboard strokes, chat room conversations, emails, programs opened, and websites visited. They often come in the form of freeware.
- Red Shell spyware
A red shell spyware is a kind of malware that installs itself amid the installation process of specific computer games and then maliciously tracks the gamer’s web activity.
Typically, the malware programmers want to aid in enhancing the games installed for the developers, but the software programs are usually installed without the gamer’s knowledge or permission.
Infostealers usually steal helpful information from your smartphone or computer. An example of an info stealer is the keylogger malware, which records, store, and scan your device for unique details.
This kind of malware is very extreme, typically going as far as scanning through your computer, web browser history, instant messages, and even through hidden folders, seeking any kind of helpful information.
- Tracking cookie files
A cookie helps you log into a recent or specific website, as it records your preferences and settings. In addition, cookies help provide bespoke ads based on your search history and other helpful information.
On the contrary, cookies can also be malicious because they act similarly to spyware, following you over the internet, recording login attempts, and tracking your browser history.
Cookies are most valuable to black hackers if they know exactly what to do. That is why we always recommend that you clear your browser tracking cookies or disable them.
This kind of malware allows scammers to infest smartphones and computers and access them in an intense area.
Rootkits mainly leverage security loopholes via a trojan or log into a computer as an administrator. As noted earlier, Rootkits are extremely difficult to spot, but you can still prevent them using an effective anti-rootkit tool.
How Spyware Works
Similarly to any other category of malware, spyware infiltrates your computer. Below is a breakdown of how spyware works.
- Infects your computer: The first thing spyware does is mask itself and cautiously install itself on your device unnoticed. Notably, the only way to obtain this is by downloading it to your computer while you’re trying to download a software program into your computer. A typical delivery means for spyware is the bundled software packages, alternatively called bundleware. This program adds to another program you intentionally download to your computer.
- Captures your information: The spyware steals information after getting into your computer. The stolen data includes your web activity, social media chats, emails, email rooms, saved passwords, files and folders, or even keystrokes.
- Hands over these data to a third party for malicious purposes: After stealing data, the spyware sends these stolen details to its creator, who can use these pieces of information directly to sell them to controversial third parties.
Notably, the details captured via spyware may include things like:
- Credit or debit card PINs or details,
- Keyboard strokes
- Email addresses
- Or web browser history.
Typical Spyware Tactics
Phishing: Scammers may try to gain access to your device by sending you a malicious link or luring you to click on it and stealing your information when you do.
Spoofing: Another way scammers may attack is by disguising themselves as an individual or company you know and trust and emailing you or a social media message.
Software backdoors: Some software backdoors or bugs can grant exploiters access to your computer if not correctly sorted. Many hackers in the tech space love to use this method to attack customers.
Trojans: Trojans are yet another practical way criminals attack end users.
Mobile Apps: Many mobile apps and games provide ad pop-ups or download links in-app to end users. Clicking on this kind of pop-up can expose you to cyber attackers, where you can lose valuable information.
Software Packages: Some software programs carry hidden plugins or add-ons that can be malicious. These concealed ad-ons may be able to steal your data or keylogs or corrupt your device.
Manipulative Marketing: Scammers exploit customers by implementing misleading marketing methods to promote helpful software tools. Hence, individuals are excited to download the software and risk becoming a victim of exploitation.
Problems Caused by Spyware
Being a victim of spyware exploitation can be genuinely frustrating and very risky. Below are some of the problems that spyware attacks can cause.
- Damage to your computer: Some hackers design their spyware poorly, which can result in the malware draining so much power from a victim’s computer. It can also cause frequent system crashes and overheating, even damaging the computer.
- Data theft: Spyware can illegally capture sensitive details like credit card information and PINs, account passwords, web browser activity, and banking information. After obtaining these details, the scammers can use them for malicious activity or sell the information to hacking groups, third-party associations, or malicious actors.
- Browsing disruption: Spyware on your device can disrupt your web browsing activity, altering your device’s settings and even affecting search engine results.
- Identity scams: Cyber exploiters can use spyware to steal your bio-data or other related sensitive information and use it to imitate your identity.
- Loss of trust: Another problem caused by spyware is that it can lead to customers losing confidence in reliable brands, which are mere victims of spoofing.
- Slowdown of your device: A sign that your device has been affected by spyware is that it will change your default browser’s homepage. Also, it will install various extensions without your permission or anti-spyware functionality.
How to Recognize Spyware?
Initially, the Windows was the only operating system with spyware infestation problems. However, all that has changed because, currently, spyware can attack Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, and iOS platforms, including tablets and smartphones.
Some notable ways your computer or smartphone may become infiltrated with spyware include:
- Downloading a software program from an untrustworthy source.
- Tapping on a link leads to a malware-infested website.
- Pirating digital media like games, music, or movies.
- Opening email documents from senders you do not trust.
- Accepting a pop-up or prompt without first checking it out.
It is worth noting that developers may use intelligent tricks to fool you into installing their spyware on your devices. The malware may be attached to freeware software appearing helpful or in a purported legitimate email attachment.
Signs of a Spyware Infection
One thing to note is that it might be tricky to recognize spyware infiltration on your device. The main reason this is so is that spyware is created to be hard to find and deceptive.
It works similarly to a spy, covertly. However, some clues can help you to know when your device has been infected.
- Your gadget crashes unexpectedly, displays error messages, or is slow.
- Your PC needs more storage space.
- You identify icons for software programs you didn’t install on your computer or smartphone.
- Your web browser shows a new plugin or toolbar you must add yourself.
- You are frustrated by persistent pop-ups.
- Your web browser no longer opens the initial homepage.
- Your web browser redirects you to web pages you didn’t navigate to.
One of the best things to do for yourself is to prevent your device from being infested by spyware. So, how do you do that? Below are some fail-proof steps to avoid being infiltrated by such disastrous malware. Let’s go:
- Download, install, and activate ad-blocker or pop-up blocker
- Limit runnable software to a pre-approved allowlist
- Always use a reputable antivirus program with protection
- Ensure your PC and smartphone are constantly updated.
- Don’t tap on links from unknown senders.
- Avoid opening email attachments or links if possible.
- Don’t download attachments from suspicious file-sharing networks.
How to Remove Spyware?
Victims of such attack creators usually don’t recover from the effects quickly. So, it is essential to keep yourself off the hook. These creators have devised new means to let people download spyware unintentionally.
With this, they have been even more victims of spyware. To keep your devices free of spyware, there are certain things you must do and others you need to avoid.
Here are the things you need to do:
- Use ad blockers that can block pop-up ads while you are browsing. Don’t click on those pop-up ads if you don’t have an ad blocker.
- Update your device at every chance you get.
- Make sure the antivirus software you use on your devices is trustworthy.
Here are the things you are not to do:
- Avoid emails from unknown senders that look suspicious and unsolicited; don’t open them.
- Do not click just any link in text messages, especially if they are from people you don’t know.
After Spyware Removal, What Next?
After removing spyware from your devices, there are more things you need to do. It would be best if you made sure to protect your data from further threats. Below are some of the things you can do.
- Change your passwords on every platform: It is essential to do this because the creators would still have access to your devices if the password remains the same. So, change your email password, social media platforms, and even your phone password.
- Contact your financial institutions for a quick response: After removing spyware from your devices, it is vital to alert your financial institutions. This is because the people involved might have gotten your bank details and will likely attempt to steal money.
Best Spyware Detectors
Spyware detectors primarily protect you from attacks. However, choosing the best remains vital for maximum data safety. Given the several options, we’ve selected the most effective spyware detectors with amazing features to narrow your search.
TotalAV emerges as the best spyware detector, mainly due to its exciting features like real-time malware protection, compatibility, and Rare File Alerts. Added to these features is its 100% hidden malware detection rate based on recent tests and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Norton will be your best pick if you need a spyware detector with the longest money-back guarantee offer. This spyware boasts a money-back guarantee of 60 days plus a 7-day free trial for new customers.
Surfshark introduces an excellent spyware removal solution while protecting your device’s webcam. Users also get additional security advantages through its 24/7 monitoring function and a VPN to stay protected while surfing the internet.
Almost all internet or computer specialists are familiar with this tool, particularly for its super antivirus protection solution. Besides this, McAfee is also known for its dedicated team of experts assigned to every user.
This detector features real-time reports on your system’s health through its Protection Score, and not to forget its 30-day money-back guarantee and free trial offers.
Spyware is a kind of malware that can infect your device, disrupt, corrupt, steal, and even damage your device. It has led to considerable losses in large corporations across the globe in the past decade, and exploitation keeps increasing.
Thus, you want to try your best to prevent your smartphone or PC from being one of the victims of such a silent beast. To do this, follow all the solutions we provided in this article.
Are all kinds of malware malicious?
Who is most prone to such threats?
Can spyware be identified?
What can I do if my computer or smartphone is infected?