What is Spyware and What Does it Mean for Businesses
Blog / What is Spyware and What Does it Mean for Businesses
The internet is full of nasty programs trying to get into your computers and networks. Spyware is one of these malicious programs. Spyware is designed to run undetected in the background of a computer, spying on what the user is doing. Unlike most malware, spyware doesn’t necessarily interrupt the normal functions of a computer, so it can be very hard to detect.
By staying undetected, spyware can gather information on your computer and the things you use it for. It ranges in severity, for example sometimes it is used to gather data to send you targeted adverts. In worse cases, it is used to record your keyboard inputs to try and steal important login information. Regardless of the severity, spyware presents a risk to privacy and data security.
Types of Spyware
Spyware takes many different forms. In its basic form, spyware sits on a computer and collects some form of data. The data that it collects, as well as what it does with this data, depends on the type of spyware. Here are some common types to look out for:
Keylogging describes the process of recording keyboard inputs made by the user of a computer. This type of spyware records any keys pressed and sends that data off to the hacker. With this data, hackers can interpret what the user is typing, and find out private information.
Web Browser or Document Infostealers
This type of spyware tracks the activity of a computer and its user. This may be harvesting browsing data or stealing documents as they are opened on a computer. This data is sometimes used for advertising purposes. In more severe cases, the stolen data is used to access files containing sensitive data as they are opened.
This is one of the more well-known varieties of spyware. Adware tracks your web activity and uses that data to send a barrage of adverts. Commonly, these appear as pop-ups on your desktop or web browser. They can also inject themselves into other programs on a computer, disguising themselves as normal adverts.
Most cookies are not commonly thought of as spyware. Generally, cookies are used to improve your browsing experience by saving your session on a website. Cookies have been used maliciously, however. Since cookies contain data about your browsing habits, hackers can hijack tracking cookies to find out what you do on the internet.
Dangers of Spyware
At its core, spyware is designed to record data and activity on the computer it is downloaded on. There are many varieties of spyware that collect data in different ways. Here are some examples of the threats these programs pose:
- Recording browser usage. Collecting the browser history of infected computers allows malicious actors to know what the user does on the internet. In some cases, this is used to send targeted ads. In worse cases, hackers can use the data to direct victims to compromised websites or scams.
- Password and identity theft. Spyware can be used to record the keys that the user presses on their keyboard. Hackers use this to obtain passwords, emails, and even banking information. This results in hackers accessing people’s accounts and a business’s network, or even identity theft.
- Data theft. Spyware can record messages sent through email and social media. If employees are sending messages containing sensitive business data, this can be harvested if they have spyware infecting their computers.
- Reducing productivity. As mentioned, spyware works best when working quietly in the background. However, some types of spyware such as adware are heavy on computer resources. Adware constantly sending adverts can slow down computers. Workflow is also disrupted by adverts popping up, slowing down web browsers and making the web harder to navigate in general.
How is Spyware Downloaded?
A computer usually catches spyware through the same channels as a regular computer virus. Here are some things to look out for in how spyware is downloaded:
Phishing is when a hacker tries to trick you into clicking a link or downloading shady software. This is usually in the form of scam emails or websites. Downloading files from these links contain all sorts of malicious software – this can be spyware.
Free software downloads (or freeware) can sometimes come bundled with spyware. Legitimate, trusted freeware programs may try to coerce you into downloading spyware-related programs through the install process. Often, these bundles have tick boxes that allow you to opt-out of the spyware program. Illegitimate freeware will simply install harmful spyware as part of the install process.
Trojans are downloads that seem trustworthy enough but are hiding malware such as spyware inside. When trojans are downloaded, they secretly deploy spyware through a backdoor in the program. The spyware installed by trojans can sometimes stay even after the original ‘trojan horse’ software is removed.
How to Prevent Spyware
The main way of preventing spyware is to exercise caution when clicking links. Read email addresses to make sure they are correct. You should also never click links from unsolicited emails, or from spam emails that offer rewards or prizes.
Another way is to double-check any free software that you download. Make sure to download software from the distributor’s actual website. This stops third-party freeware sites from repackaging the software and bundling it with freeware. Make sure to read the tick boxes and even the terms and conditions of freeware you download. A lot of freeware is bundled with adware that you can opt out of in the install process.
Spyware can be noticed early by looking out for some key signs:
- Advert pop-ups appear where they previously hadn’t.
- Your computer is slower, or freezes and crashes more often.
- Toolbars or extensions appear in your web browser without you installing them.
- Websites you click on get redirected to adverts or other websites.
If you think you have downloaded spyware, it can be easily removed by antivirus software. Antivirus software can find most types of spyware. This spyware will likely be labelled as a Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP). These should be deleted as soon as possible.
Securiwiser can Help
Securiwiser’s goal is to help businesses shore up their cyber defences. Securiwiser scans your business’s domain to look for weaknesses that can allow cyberattacks to occur. If you are worried about spyware, Securiwiser can help you secure your network to mitigate the effects of a spyware attack.
Securiwiser scans for vulnerabilities in your network’s ports, email security, DNS health, and more. We test the strength of your network over time, so you can see how the improvements you make affect your score.
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