Spyware is software that is installed into a computer device, without the end user’s knowledge, in order to gather data and sensitive information and is currently one of the most common threats to internet users.
This type of malware infects your PC or mobile in order to gather information including sites you visit, what you download, usernames, payment information and emails exchanged.
It is difficult to detect and can in fact get on to your computer through legitimate applications, where it will be noted somewhere in the T&Cs that spyware is included. It runs in the background and triggers malicious activity relating to your devices.
How does it happen?
There are various ways that spyware can get on to your device, including:
- Security vulnerabilities such as bugs
- Phishing attempts
- Misleading marketing – advertising
- Software bundles – add ons, extensions, plugins. Also, if you use pirated software or programs this can cause spyware to gain access to your device.
- Downloads from unknown sources
Types of spyware
This type of spyware is used to harvest passwords from infected computers. It works by accessing stored credentials on browsers and apps.
These apps are designed to harvest credentials from finance companies such as banks, building societies and digital wallets. They mostly gain access through vulnerabilities in browser security, allowing them to modify webpages in order to achieve their goal.
As their name suggests, these applications scan computers for a variety of information including usernames, passwords, email addresses, web history, documents and other media files. They may exploit vulnerabilities in your browser security to collect info from forums etc.
This is usually bundled in with free software, shareable programs and utilities downloaded from the internet. It can also be installed on a user’s device when they visit an infected website unknowingly. One of the most common types of adware are cookies that track and record users personally identifiable information and online browsing habits. With data usually being sold to third parties, regulations such as GDPR have been put in place to help protect users from having their PII collected or stolen.
These are a type of system monitor that cybercriminals use to capture computer activity such as keystrokes, websites visited, search history, email conversations and login credentials. This is done by taking screenshots at regular intervals without the user’s knowledge.
This is particularly dangerous as it can be easily transferred from an infected device to another via Short Message Service (SMS) or Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) text messages. Infected devices can use the device’s microphone and camera to spy on nearby activity, record phone calls made from the device, track browsing activities and log keystrokes.
Mobile spyware usually gains access to a device and infects it through free public Wi-Fi, operating system flaws and malicious apps.
How to recognize and remove spyware
It is very difficult to detect when your device has been infected with spyware but there are some signs to look out for:
- Device is running slower than usual.
- Device is consistently crashing.
- Pop ups are appearing when user is both on and offline.
- Device is running out of hard drive space unexpectedly.
If you do find spyware on your device, there are a few steps you can take to get rid of it:
- Disconnect your device from the internet
- Check your programs list for any unwanted or suspicious software. Remove the unwanted software or app and then reboot your device
- Run a reliable antivirus or anti spyware tool to check for other threats
- Check what may have been compromised. If it is a personal device, change passwords. If it is a business device, consult the correct personnel about what actions you should take and what they may need to do.
How to prevent spyware
Having a strict cybersecurity plan and practises are important first steps in preventing any form of cyberattack. There are a few other simple best practises you can follow to limit the threat of spyware:
- Only download from trusted sources
- Read all disclosures before installing software
- Avoid interactions with pop ups
- Ensure you are current with patches and updates
- Don’t open emails or attachments from unknown sources
- Only use trusted cybersecurity tools
- Enable 2FA (two factor authentication) where possible.