in Blog, Cyber Security

What is meant by Spyware? What measures can you take to prevent it?

Although the name “Spyware” might paint a picture of something straight out from a James Bond movie, used by covert intelligence officials to gather information on the enemy, however, the reality of the situation might be a bit flatter than the fascinating world of Hollywood.

Simply put, spyware is any unwanted software that sneaks into your device, and sabotages your internet usage, along with gaining access to your data. The primary function of spyware is to collect as much of your data, which is later sold to advertisers or other third-party users, who might have malicious intent.

With cyber-crimes on the rise, with statistics stating that a whopping total of 978 million victims across 20 countries being affected by cyber-crimes in 2017, you might want to stay on top of all the pesky viruses and threats lurking around the internet and beyond.

With spyware being one of the most prevalent vulnerabilities in the world of cyber-security, so to prepare our readers against spyware, we’ve compiled an article that’ll hopefully give you all the necessary information about spyware.

What exactly is Spyware?       

 Up till now, we’ve only skimmed over what spyware is, but the essence of the software can be felt fully when we talk about spyware as a general umbrella word, which fundamentally refers to any malicious software designed to change the configuration of your device’s setting and snoop in on your data.

Spyware falls under malware, which is a general term used to refer to any virus, threat, or infection which might be responsible for a breach in your device’s security. As stated above, typical spyware works by secretly keeping tabs on your online and offline activity.

An excellent way of knowing whether or not you’ve been infected by spyware is if you find your internet browser reconfigured for no apparent reason. No matter how many times you try to modify the browser configurations back to normal, the spyware will keep reverting it to its corrupted state.

Moreover, the malicious software might install keyloggers on to your device, which enables it to steal your passwords, usernames, credit card information, along with other useful sensitive information, most of which falls under personally identifiable information (PII). The main objective that cyber-criminals seek to fulfill is to sell all stolen data to advertisers, or any third-party with money in their pockets.

In some dreadful instances, the third-party is a hacker, who utilizes all the stolen data to commit identity theft or to manufacture legal documents such as driving licenses, birth, and death certificates. The hacker might also sell the obtained information on the Dark Web, which might result in your data being lost forever.

What are the types of spyware?

In the instance that you find yourself a victim of a spyware attack, perhaps the most optimal thing for you to do would be analyzing the situation to the best of your understanding.

Taking a step back to analyze the full extent of the damage caused is especially crucial with spyware attacks since the blows caused by the malicious software can take many faces, each complete with unique techniques to track you and your online activity.

Mentioned below are the four types of spyware which are the most prevalent:

Adware:

This kind of spyware tracks your online activity, focusing primarily on your download and browsing history to target advertisements at you.

Adware works by analyzing the online purchases you’ve made to predict and place ads that might be relevant to you. Fundamentally, adware is used for marketing and utilizes stolen data to package you as a consumer.

Tracking Cookies:

Tracking cookies are precisely what the name suggests. Similarly to adware, tracking cookies keep a record of the victim’s web activities to market products to them.

Trojans:

This kind of spyware masks its true identity by pretending to be authentic software to gain the victim’s trust. Trojans often poses as a Flash Player or Java update, which the victim unknowingly downloads.

Trojans are primarily used to gain access to susceptible data, such as credit card information, social security numbers, etc. Trojans, also known as Trojan horses, are mostly controlled by third-party cyber-criminals.

System Monitoring:

Perhaps the most dangerous type of spyware, system monitors enables hackers to access to everything you do on your device. System monitors keep tabs on all the emails you send, websites you visit, and the programs you run. Moreover, the system monitors to record your keystrokes as well.

Usually, system monitors are disguised as freeware, which proves it to be a convenient disguise to have people download the malicious software on to their devices.

How can you prevent Spyware?

Before we can get into the ways you can steer clear of spyware, you need to acquaint yourself with the most common source points for spyware to enter your devices. Some of the most common ways through which spyware might gain access to your sensitive data include:

  • Pop-ups. Clicking on a pop-up without reading through it can result in spyware being downloaded on to your device, without your news.
  • Untrustworthy websites. Downloading any content from an unreliable source is also the primary source for spyware to contaminate your computer through.
  • Spam email attachments. Along with other viruses and infections, spam email attachments are also an important entry point for spyware to infect thousands of devices in one go.
  • Downloading pirated content. With the rise in torrenting, many people have taken to downloading pirated content from external sources. However, the next time, the urge to download and enjoy stolen movies and shows arise; try to remind yourself that most spyware enters your device through these downloaded movies and shows.

With that out of the way, let’s delve into the ways you can avoid spyware, and secure your computer from unwarranted attention of any sort.

Avoid opening unknown emails.

One of the most crucial steps you can take to prevent spyware is to avoid opening or replying to any emails from an unknown sender.

In the instance that you receive an email which seems shady, make sure that you report it as spam to stop receiving any such emails in the future.

Avoid visiting unreliable websites.

To prevent spyware from sneaking in on you through a download you made, try to stay away from unreliable websites as much as possible.

Keeping this in mind, websites that aren’t indexed by popular search engines such as Google and Bing should be considered to be restricted.

Do not click on pop-up advertisements.

An easy step you can take to ensure that your data doesn’t get snooped in on is to not click on any pop-up ads that might appear during your browsing session.

A tell-tale sign to confirm if your device has been affected by spyware is if the number of pop-ups appearing on your browser suddenly increases. In instances such as these, don’t let curiosity get the better of you and avoid clicking on the pop-ups no matter what.

Go through license agreements.

After downloading an application or software, most of us blindly scroll through the lengthy user license agreements, without even batting an eye.

However, it would probably be in your best agreement to read the agreements you’ve signed because they might contain relevant details about “Information collection,” which is a nice way of saying privacy invasion.

Download anti-virus software.

A fundamental rule to the safekeeping of your device, whether it’s a laptop or a mobile phone is to install antivirus software which provides robust security and covers all aspects of security and safety.

When scouting for antivirus software, make sure you look for features that target spyware mainly, with anti-keylogger software programs that help detect keystrokes.

Parting Words:

At the end of the article, we can only hope that we’ve cleared any doubts that you might have been harboring about spyware.

With that being said, try to keep in mind the safety tips and precautions we’ve mentioned above. After that, all that’s left to do is to enjoy browsing through the internet without a worry!

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