We are sure that you already heard of spyware, but are you curious to dive deeper into the consequences and types of this malware infection?

This sneaky malicious software may be collecting your data as we speak, with only a few signs to give it away. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself, your data, your devices, and also software that can keep spyware away.

What Is Spyware?

Spyware is a type of malware – or malicious software – created to be installed on a machine without the user’s consent and to steal data from a device for the benefit of its creator. Once secretly installed, it can monitor online activity, record credentials or other sensitive and personal data, and GPS tracking, among other things. This exposes you to data breaches as well as the unauthorized use of your personal information.

The ethical controversy sparked by spyware resides in the fact that they can be sometimes programs used by companies to gather data about users for ads or other commercial purposes, but they still can invade the user’s intimacy.

Spyware can affect any type of online device: a personal computer, Mac, iOS, or Android.

How Spyware Works?

Once in, this malicious software can be difficult to detect – as it can run in the background as an application -, and can make your life harder in a number of ways:

  • It can reduce the speed of your device, by occupying hard drive space, and it may slow down your Internet connection.
  • In the case of mobile devices, it can increase data usage and shorten the life of the battery.
  • It can generate pop-up ads on your device, slowing down your web browser.
  • It can affect the browser also by changing its homepage, redirecting searches, and tweaking results.
  • It can steal data about your browsing history, credentials, email address, credit card details, etc. With all this, a cybercriminal can plan an identity theft or choose to sell them further to third parties.
  • It can temper with your security software making your network and devices more vulnerable to cyberattacks.
  • More sophisticated forms of malware can even tell when you try to remove them and avoid them.

Types of Spyware

Spyware can come in different forms, all doing the same dirty deeds:

  • Adware – this malware will be disguised as an ad and will deploy malicious code once you click on it or even use the drive-by method.
  • Cookies – are very common and they can track and steal your personally identifiable information (PII). But cookies can also be used by advertiser companies, to better know their clients. This is where General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) steps in to protect your data.
  • Keyloggers – will register your every keystroke, therefore monitoring your every online move. Keyloggers can be of two types: hardware ones – kind of like a USB drive -, and software ones – a program.
  • Trojans – or malicious software disguised as a legitimate one. You can install what is seems to be a perfectly safe app, for example, and end up with spyware on your device.
  • Mobile spyware – you can get it through Short Message Service (SMS) or Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) even without interacting with the content. It can get access to the phone’s camera and microphone, monitor GPS, as well as record calls, internet activity, and keystrokes.

How Can You Get Infected with Spyware?

You can get infected without knowing it. Also, some of the most frequent ways to get spyware are common for multiple types of malware:

  • Downloading pirated software or any file from an untrustworthy source.
  • Downloading bundleware, or bundled software packages, where the spyware is attached to the legitimate program that you install.
  • Clicking on pop-up advertisements or windows that appear on the Internet.
  • Opening unverified attachments and clicking on links without checking them, from phishing messages or even from a known person.
  • Visiting an infected website – even a legitimate one – via drive-by malware (a way of distributing malware that does not require any interaction from the visitor).

How to Prevent a Spyware Infection

Keep in mind these good cybersecurity practices. They can seem basic to you, but following them strictly can keep you protected.

  • Download apps only from legitimate sources and give them only the strictly necessary permissions.
  • Don’t click on pop-up ads, banners, or unchecked links, and do not open untrustworthy attachments from emails or messages.
  • Always update your software, browsers, and OS so you will not be exposed to security vulnerabilities.
  • Use a good security software that can prevent spyware infection or can remove it, if necessary, alongside an adblocker and an anti-tracking browser extension.
  • Use two-factor authentication (2FA) on as many of your accounts as possible.
  • Use the principle of least privilege for your employees, this way, if one of them gets infected with spyware, you will limit the damage to a certain number of files.
  • A virtual private network (VPN) should be a must for remote workers.
  • Be careful when you accept cookies and accept them only on trusted websites.

How to Remove Spyware from Your Device

If you identify a spyware infection on one of your devices, here are the steps you can take to remove this problem:

  • Disconnect the device from the Internet.
  • Search for the malicious program in the machine’s program list. Once you find it, remove the program by uninstalling it. The last step is to reboot the entire OS.
  • If the malware is not listed, search for it using a security software, a virus removal tool, or an antispyware tool. Once found, you can delete the spyware or quarantine it.
  • You can also remove the infection manually by accessing the device’s hard drive in safe mode, searching for the malware, and removing it using a tool.
  • Mobile devices can be also scanned for malware using security software. But it is important to constantly back up your data so you can do a factory reset on your phone if needed.

Spyware Examples

Here are some spyware examples and the capabilities of such malicious software:

  • CoolWebSearch – exploiting Internet Explorer vulnerabilities, taking control over the browser, changing its settings, and stealing data.
  • DarkHotel – is a spyware used in spear phishing that targets hotel visitors using the hotel’s Wi-Fi network.
  • Emotet – a trojan that aims for the victim’s banking credentials.
  • Gator – found in file-sharing software, it tracks web browsing activity in order to target ads better.
  • TIBS Dialer – redirects users to pornographic sites.
  • Zlob – records keystrokes and browsing history.
  • Spyera – is an app for your mobile devices that can unknowingly monitor SMS, calls, GPS locations, and social media accounts.

How Can Heimdal® Help?

Heimdal Endpoint Detection and Response is a complex cybersecurity technology designed to protect endpoints and continuously monitor them for anomalies, as well as to respond to mitigate cybersecurity threats.

When threats arise, Heimdal’s EDR provides greater visibility into corporate endpoints and allows for faster response times, stopping an attack at its beginning.

Some of our most crucial modules are included in our EDR service (Threat PreventionPatch and Asset ManagementNext-Gen AntivirusRansomware Encryption ProtectionPrivileged Access ManagementApplication Control), ensuring the following features: automated detection and remediation, machine learning, threat intelligence, application control, patch and vulnerability management, privileged access management, intelligent alerting and reporting.

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Wrapping Up…

Spyware, even if it is intended as mild surveillance by a non-criminal entity, can be easily abused leading to massive data breaches and loss of all privacy.

As we always say, prevention is the best path for a strong cybersecurity posture, that is why we encourage you to take measures to keep your devices and your information safe and not wait for a malware infection to happen.

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