In this article, we'll discuss what spyware is, the common types of spyware, and how you can protect yourself, your employees and your data from spyware.
What is Spyware?
Spyware is a malicious piece of software that continuously monitors your computer's activity and internet use. Its purpose is to gather information, often referred to as traffic data, which can include keystrokes, screenshots, websites visited, or various types of personal or sensitive information. The data can be used in a wide variety of ways, including selling it to interested entities or for identity theft, in some cases. Knowing these common types of spyware and how to detect them is very important.
A system can get infected with spyware, pretty much the same way as it does with other types of malware, including Trojans, viruses, worms, etc. They can either take advantage of various security vulnerabilities such as when the user clicks on an unfamiliar link in an email, or just visiting a malicious website. Users can willingly download them if they are advertised as all sorts of useful tools or as freeware (free software.)
Why Does Spyware Matter?
With phishing attempts getting savvier by the day, it's critical that your employees are well educated on how they can prevent and detect phishing attacks. We've seen companies with threat protection in place still get fooled by various phishing attempts as they're getting harder to spot these days. Many are coming disguised as people you know and correspond with regularly. Just recently, a CEO of a company fell victim to a phishing attempt and they had to sell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their data back. Humans are the first and last line of defense, so it's critical to educate employees on how to prevent this from happening.
How To Determine Whether Your Computer is Infected with Spyware
The best way to detect this type of software is to have an up-to-date firewall, anti-malware, or antivirus software installed on your device. These will alert you in case there is any suspicious activity or any other kinds of security threats on your PC.
Nevertheless, other telltale signs may indicate that one or more pieces of spyware software have made it into your system. These rarely operate alone on your computer, meaning that your device will have multiple infections. In this case, users will at times notice a degradation in the system's performance such as a high CPU activity, disk usage, or inexplicable network traffic.
Various programs and applications may experience regular crashes or freezing, a failure to start, or even a problem in connecting to the internet. Some types of spyware can also disable your firewall and antivirus, alongside other browser security settings, resulting in a much higher risk of future infection. If you encounter any of these issues, the chances are that spyware or other forms of malware-infected your system.
What are the Common Types of Spyware?
Usually, the functionality of any given spyware depends on the intentions of its creator. Here are four examples of the most common types of spyware.
Keyloggers - Also known as system monitors, keyloggers are designed to record your computer's activity, including keystrokes, search history, email activity, chat room communications, websites accessed, system credentials, etc. More sophisticated examples can also collect documents going through printers.
Password Stealers - As their name would suggest, these types of spyware will collect any passwords inserted into an infected device. These may include things like system login credentials or other such critical passwords.
Infostealers - When a PC or other device is infected with this type of spyware, it can provide third parties with sensitive information such as passwords, usernames, email addresses, log files, browser history, system information, spreadsheets, documents, media files, etc. Infostealers usually take advantage of browser security vulnerabilities to collect personal data and other sensitive information.
Banking Trojans - Like info stealers, banking trojans take advantage of browser security vulnerabilities to acquire credentials from financial institutions, modify transaction content or web pages, or insert additional transactions, among other things. Banks, online financial portals, brokerages, digital wallets, and all sorts of other financial institutions can fall prey to these banking trojans.
The digital environment comes with its inherent risks, as is the case with these spyware or other forms of malware. Fortunately, however, various people and tools can help you, and your company stays protected from these online threats.