People are becoming more familiarized with online security threats. It would be fair, after years of hacking scandals, identity thefts, and ransomware attacks. Finally, internet users are starting to realize that the web has attached risks that shouldn’t be overlooked.
While computer viruses, trojan horses, ransomware attacks, and similar hazards take up all the headlines, there is another type of malware that threatens to end people’s online and data privacy, and that is spyware.
What is Spyware?
With spyware, the industry refers to any software that the user unknowingly installs in its system and steals data and access to specific files, effectively acting like a real-life spy. Often, this information (usually things you do or visit online or even offline) is sent by third parties that look to gain any competitive advantage by using your data without your consent.
While sometimes spyware asks for your permission, the most common scenario involves it installing on your computer and running on your background without you even knowing about it. Spyware is considered malware because it secretly collects data, alters your settings or creates ads directly at you based on your browsing behavior.
Among the personal information and data bits, it may use are your credit card details, or even social media and banking username and passphrases. They can go to your gaming accounts or even your emails as well.
Spyware tracks your browsing behavior and monitors the programs you run for online marketing ends. They can also take you to dangerous advertising sites, or even send you annoying pop-ups and ads. They present serious data privacy infractions because they collect your information to send it to anybody that can make a profit from it, including people with fraudulent purposes.
What can Spyware do?
Over the years, it has been proved that spyware can record instant messages from apps such as Skype, Facebook, and other social media outlets, effectively compromising your data and online privacy.
Some types of spyware can take over your webcam, take screenshots of what you do, and the worst of all: alter the settings of your computer or hard drive. They can modify your home page, install unwanted add-ons on your browser, and other changes that may not be easy to revert.
They use rootkit technologies as a perfect hiding landscape. That way, they become tough to remove from your system, and they can significantly slow down your computer’s performance to the point it becomes practically unusable.
Spyware is one of the hackers’ preferred tools because they allow them to gain administrator privileges in the devices they infect. With those, they have full access to every program, network, process, and system, earning the right to disable antivirus and firewalls.
What are the most Common Types of Spyware?
Spyware is a broad term, so here is a classification according to its purpose:
- Personal info stealing: Some spyware are ordered to install in people’s devices and let their ‘manager’ steal valuable personal data and information about the user, including credit card numbers and other banking account details, passwords, and more. Those details can be used for fraudulent acts such as identity thefts.
- Marketing frauds: Spyware managers can take credit and revenue for affiliate marketers because the latter’s networks are vulnerable to spyware attacks, effectively replacing IDs to their convenience.
- Targeted ad messages: Spyware can gain access to the sites you most frequently visit and forward that information to third parties (often online retailers and stores) that make personalized ads for you, thus increasing the odds that you may click and make a purchase.
How Spyware Infects your Device
Spyware doesn’t act like regular worms or viruses. They contaminate a computer by bundling with other apps or software that the victims are tricked into installing in their systems.
There are other ways to infect a system. For example, they can look for security weaknesses in web browsers and other programs: people are, again, tricked into visiting compromised websites that may do more harm than good.
Email attachments and download links are especially dangerous, too, because they may contain Trojan horses that people mistake for legitimate files.
Signs your Computer might be Infected with Spyware
- Slow performance: When your computer is running significantly slower than usual, you may have spyware. A sluggish system is the most visible sign of this malware taking up most of your system resources to collect and forward your data.
- Dubious and unwanted search redirects: When your web browser