What is spyware/malware?

Spyware has made it easier than ever before for spammers to stalk, track, monitor, and harass their victims. Hackers, stalkers, and other perpetrators can now use spyware to secretly monitor what you do on your device.

What is spyware?

Spyware is a software used to gain access to a user’s systems and device to monitor their data, files, and behavior, typically without their knowledge.

There are many types of computer software programs and hardware devices that can be installed to monitor your computer activities. They can be installed on your computer without your knowledge, and the person installing them doesn’t even need to have physical access to your computer.

How do I get spyware?

No one is safe from spyware, as it can affect PCs, Macs, and iOS and Android devices. Some of the most common ways your computer or mobile device can become infected are:

  • Accepting a prompt, or clicking on a pop-up, without reading it
  • Downloading software from an unknown source
  • Opening phishing emails that contain attachments or malicious links
  • Downloading media, such as music, movies, or games

Types of spyware

Spyware isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of cyber attack, as there are many different types you could fall victim to.

  • Trojans
    Trojan is a type of malicious code or software that looks legitimate but can take control of your computer. A Trojan is designed to damage, disrupt, steal, or in general inflict some other harmful action on your data or network. When you’re a victim of a Trojan attack, you will unknowingly install a file that is disguised as a program, only for it to delete your files, encrypt your data for ransom, or give your personal information to others with the intent of identity theft.
  • Keyloggers
    Keyloggers are used to steal personal information, login credentials, and sensitive data by tracking the keystrokes of your keyboard. They’re not only used by cyber criminals, but also employer’s to observe computer activity and parents to supervise their children as they use the internet.
  • Password stealers
    As the name suggests, password stealers are applications designed to collect passwords from infected computers, ranging from your email, banking account, or social media accounts. This puts you at risk for a variety of different cyber crimes as your passwords will then be sent to remote hackers to use at will.

How does Spyware work?

Spyware can keep track of every keystroke you type, every software application you use, every website you visit, every chat or instant message you send, every document you open, and everything you print. Some spyware software gives the person monitoring the ability to freeze, shutdown or restart your computer. Some versions even allow the abuser to remotely turn on your webcam or make your computer talk.

Once spyware is installed, it can run in stealth mode and is difficult to detect or uninstall. If the person who installed it has physical access to your computer, he or she can log into the computer with a special password to see all of the computer activity (emails sent, documents printed, websites visited, and more) since their last log in. Hackers without physical access to your computer can receive reports showing all of your computer activities, including copies of emails and instant messages sent, websites visited, etc., as well as screenshots of the computer screen every few seconds. This can all occur without the user knowing.

Preventive measures you can take: There are steps you can take to reduce the chance of spyware. Note that these suggestions will help prevent spyware from being installed and work best before your computer has been compromised.

  • Keep your passwords updated.
  • Install and enable a firewall. There are both software and hardware firewalls. If a firewall didn’t come with your computer, you can download a software one for free from www.zonealarm.com.
  • Have a anti-malware protection program installed. Make sure your anti-malware definitions are up-to-date because new dangerous viruses are released daily and that it scans your computer regularly. This may involve setting your computer to automatically update its virus definitions and run scans daily. When your software subscription ends, make sure to renew it.
  • Install anti-spyware programs and make sure the spyware definitions are updated automatically and regularly.
  • These programs will only protect you from spyware software or programs but not hardware devices, such as a keystroke logging keyboard or device.