What is Spyware?
The threats that surround users have kept evolving and becoming more complex over the years. What might have once been something that would have a minimal audience to attack is now a piece of malicious code that can affect thousands and millions if not more.
Spyware is one of the most concerning threats that ordinary people and corporate entities have to deal with when it comes to privacy related matters.
Information in the wrong hands could spell the end for an individual’s reputation or a company’s corporate edge within their industry. Spyware is a serious threat and there needs to be a greater awareness in terms of its vector of attack as well as how individuals can protect themselves from spyware.
What does Spyware Mean?
As the name suggests, spyware is used to “spy” on a target, usually someone who has given their consent without them knowing what they are signing up for. The spyware infecting a device is mainly used to go undetected on a device and to gather and transmit this information to the benefactors of the spyware.
Figure 1. What is Spyware
Spyware initially was perceived as software that was designed for corporate or governmental espionage. In a more modern sense of the word, spyware has come to be known as software that aims to infiltrate a system, spy, and relay that information to the software’s owner.
Back in the day the term spyware was used for software that was employed for espionage purposes. On October 16, 1995, in a Usenet post, the term "spyware" was first mentioned.
In 1999, spyware made its first and quite significant public impact, when Elf Bowling, a fairly popular and free game, was discovered to be equipped with tracking software. Following the Elf Bowling event, Steve Gibson of Gibson Research in the same year uncovered a kind of spyware that under the cloak of advertising, was in reality stealing confidential information.
Prior to the release of Internet Explorer 6 SP2 as part of Windows XP Service Pack 2, IE would automatically display an installation window for any ActiveX component that a site desired to install.
The combination of user ignorance about the above listed changes, and the naive assumption by IE that all ActiveX components are harmless, helped to spread spyware faster and in a more widespread fashion.
Modern spyware has come a long way from its initial beginnings. It is constantly evolving and becoming more of a threat to users. To combat this threat, the average user needs to first be aware of spyware, how it infects their system and how they can protect themselves from it.
What Does a Spyware Do?
Spyware is primarily used to gain access to a target’s device and to gain further access to their data and their behavior while they are using the infected device.
Its main purpose is to gather as much information from an unsuspected user’s device and to transmit this information over the network without the target being aware of the spyware’s presence.
It can be a huge pain to deal with and can come at a significant financial cost to the targets. The best way to avoid being infected with spyware is to be aware of how it works and to know what it can do to a computer system.
How does it Work Spyware?
Spyware takes control of the target's devices and steals their data and information without their consent or prior permission. Some of the ways spyware does this are by storing your keystrokes, hacking your device's camera, or voice calls.
Spyware can also alter the target's security settings and pave way for greater adverts and pop ups. When your device is infected by spyware you will not be able to use it a lot as it will not be in the best condition.
What is the Purpose of Spyware?
The primary purpose of spyware is to gain access to the way a target uses a device or the internet as well as getting access to their information and online data.
Spyware is installed onto the target’s device often without their consent. The thing that makes dealing with spyware a challenge is that it is pretty difficult to detect.
You will be required to install anti-spyware software to detect and ultimately remove the spyware from your device. The harm that spyware can do to a particular target can vary and it's better to be safe from spyware than to react to a bad situation.
How is Spyware Detected?
Detecting spyware is a challenge since most spyware manufacturers ensure that it is able to blend into the system files and an ordinary user will have a hard time trying to find its presence.
Even if you aren't able to find the spyware program infecting your system or device, you may be able to find some signs indicating its existence on your device.
There are several things that spyware will do and therefore it will have an impact on system performance. Slow response times and increased system resource consumption can be an indication of spyware. If you start getting more and more pop up or ads online, that might be a very positive indicator for spyware. You will notice this change quite easily in the way you use the internet and the kind of advertisements you start getting.
New software that you might not remember installing will be present on your computer. Spyware often comes in tandem with other pieces of software that might not have been what you consented to use. Reduced battery times and heating up are also common complaints of a system infected by spyware or some other form of malware.
To confirm the presence and detect exactly where spyware might be present on your system, you will need to employ anti-spyware software. Ideally, you should buy a robust spyware combatant from a reputable firm or company that has expertise in this particular field.
What is a Spyware Attack?
A spyware attack can be classified as the actions taken by spyware software on a computer system or device. This sort of attack primarily focuses on ensuring that the actions taken by the user and their behavior along with information is transmitted to the creator or benefactor of the spyware.
Avoiding spyware these days can be a challenge as most users will be unaware that they are under a spyware attack and that their privacy and data are at risk.
What are the Methods of Protection from Spyware?
Protecting yourself from spyware is essential if you want to make sure that you are maintaining confidentiality and are safe from online threats.
While a persistent hacker may try to exploit loopholes, you should aim to focus on giving them a hard time and constantly finding new defenses from spyware and other forms of malware.
Here are some methods that you can use to protect yourself from spyware:
- Read the entire terms and conditions.
Very few users actually take the time and read through long user terms and conditions or agreements that they get when signing up for an online service, subscribing to something, or downloading a software product. However, that small investment of taking the time to read through the small print could play a key role in protecting you from spyware.
- Don't install free software from unverified sources.
While it may be possible to find real software and tools, many of the free options may come bundled with spyware that will probably get your consent if you don't pay attention. Purchasing a tool and spending some cash is better than forfeiting your right to privacy and digital security.
- Install anti-spyware software.
Your devices and computer system should be protected by anti spyware if you're primarily concerned with protecting yourself from spyware. The least you can do is to use the security software and capabilities built into Windows.
- Keep your software updated.
Keep your software updated and make sure that your OS is also up to date and has the necessary security updates and patches to give you peace of mind.
What are Anti-Spyware Programs?
Anti-spyware programs are a special kind of software that are designed to detect and eliminate unwanted spyware programs that are often installed without the device user's consent.
Robust anti-spyware programs need to constantly update and upgrade themselves if they want to be able to provide ample protection to the people who choose to use them.
There are a number of anti spyware programs available and if you're buying a whole suite of cyber security solutions, then you will probably get some form of anti software program or protection from spyware.
Here are some of the best anti spyware programs that you should check out before making a purchase:
Norton360 is a complete solution when it comes to preventing digital threats including spyware. It's anti malware scanner utilizes machine learning to detect threats (this includes spyware as well) that most other solutions are not able to detect.
Norton360 provides real time protection which means that all spyware are immediately blocked as soon as they are launched. All in all, Norton360 is a comprehensive solution that can cater to your defense when it comes to spyware.
- Avira Free Antivirus
An antivirus might not be your first choice when it comes to an anti spyware program, but Avira is one solution that you should definitely check out.
Not only is it free, but it's performance is pretty good for a free tool, so much so that it can even outperform some paid tools.
It has a potentially unwanted application shield that is used to identify and remove spyware apps that may come linked together with other legitimate software.
This option is a cloud based scanner which can detect and remove spyware without impacting your system's performance.
It is ideal to use when you do not want the hassle of managing anti spyware on your device and want to devote your system's resources to other tasks.
Bitdefender is also capable of finding hidden malware that comes bundled with software downloaded from pirated sites making it a good option for most people. Not only that but Bitdefender also comes equipped with features like firewalls, webcam and mic protection, as well as a secure browser to ensure that your system is safe.
What is Anti-Spyware Used For?
Anti Spyware software is primarily used to scan hard disks and system registry for footprints of spyware and adware. It then either removes the spyware or gives the user an alert that their system has been infected and that they need to remove them from their device.
Anti-spyware software is made with the goal and intention of preventing and detecting unwanted spyware and removing them. Anti-spyware software conducts routine checks on the device to ensure that it is safe from threats.
There are a lot of programmes on the internet that claim to be anti spyware but are actually viruses in hiding. Conducting a search on the internet and looking at reviews is one of the best ways to avoid getting fooled. Opting for a well known solution from a reputable solution provider is smart as only a good anti spyware will be able to keep up with ever changing threats.
What is the Best Spyware Program?
As cybersecurity and cyber defense technologies develop over the years, many spyware have gone extinct and out of use, while some more complex and sophisticated forms of spyware have come to light. Some of the best-known and famous examples of spyware include the following:
CoolWebSearch is a kind of spyware that would take full advantage of the security loopholes in Internet Explorer to take control of the browser, change the preset settings, and send a user's browsing data to its creator.
HuntBar was a spyware that was installed by an ActiveX drive-by download at different affiliate sites, or through display advertisements that were coincidentally displayed on other spyware related websites. HuntBar was used to add toolbars to Internet Explorer, track user browsing behavior, redirect traffic to affiliate references, and display ads.
Gator was a spyware that was most commonly bundled with file-sharing software like Kazaa. Gator would monitor the target’s web usage and surfing habits and relay the data to serve them with more specific and better-targeted ads.
- Internet Optimizer
Internet Optimizer was a pretty popular spyware back when the internet was still in its infancy compared to today. Internet Optimizers would deceive people and claim to help increase internet speeds. Instead of increasing internet speed or optimizing it in any way, Internet Optimizer would replace all the error and login pages with ads.
What is a Spyware Remover?
This may come as a surprise, but the internet can be a dangerous place for unaware users. Malicious software and code are widespread on the internet that aim to infect and target unsuspecting users.
Spyware creators are aware that their malicious software will be found and removed by protective software like antivirus or anti malware. These bad actors continue working on variations with the aim to slip under defense mechanisms. It is pivotal to opt for the best virus removal tool that can keep up with changing needs and fend off cyber attacks.
A spyware remover is a specially designed software that is similar to more commonly known digital protection tools like antivirus and anti malware programs.
Spyware removers are designed to identify, prevent, and eliminate any spyware and adware infections on a user's device. Spyware is also synonymous with antispyware, spyware detector and spyware cleaner.
What is Difference Between Spyware and Malware
Malware can be defined as a piece of code or a file that is specifically designed to cause harm and damage to a target's device, information or network.
Malware is used as a blanket term that covers a bunch of malicious software.
In contrast to spyware, malware is generally more harmful than spyware. It can cause harm to the infected device, it can bring down servers and it can also put an individual's or organization's data at risk.
Spyware typically monitors and relays the activity being performed on the infected device. Unlike most malware, spyware cannot replicate itself and make additional copies of itself.
The difference in the effects of malware or spyware comes from the way it's designed and the capabilities it possesses along with the benefit it brings to the parties that choose to use it.
What is the Difference Between a Cookie and a Spyware?
Cookies when referenced in the tech terminologies are text files that contain bits of information like names and passwords that are used to differentiate your device from other devices on the network.
HTTP cookies are primarily used to recognize and associate specific users with their online activity and improve their website browsing experience. Information stored in a cookie is generated by the network server upon a user's connection. This data is labeled with an ID unique to the user and their computer.
When a cookie is transferred between devices and the network server, the server scans the ID and knows what information to specifically serve to a specific person.
As you can tell from the definition and usage of a cookie, they are fairly dissimilar to spyware. These days, most websites come with an alert, either in the form of a header or footer that gives them a chance to manage their cookies. Most spyware won’t give the targeted device’s owners that option of consent or access.
Spywares are generally used for nefarious purposes while cookies are mostly used to improve on site experience and provide a better user experience for the specific person using the website.
What is Mobile Spyware?
Mobile spyware is a specific type of spyware that is designed to be installed (often without consent) by the user of the target mobile or smartphone when they download a seemingly harmless app or software, comes across a malicious website or leaves their mobile device physically unattended and at risk of harm.
If a mobile device has become the target of spyware, the malicious software can listen in on people speaking near the vicinity of the compromised mobile device.
The spyware can also give its installers and owners the access to data that is stored on a mobile device or transmitted from and to it.
Bluetooth which is a feature present on virtually all smartphones also provides a greatly unsecured interface that can be exploited by the unfortunate people.
Smartphone accelerometers have also been reported to be used in keyboard vibration attacks. This is done to assess what a target is typing on a mobile device.
One of the most common use cases for using a mobile spyware is to check the location and access the data and activities being performed on the device by a lover or spouse. The people who use the spyware either want to closely monitor the activities of their significant other using the infected device. They may want to do this to get evidence in case of suspected cheating.
Is It Legal to Use Spyware?
The short answer is that it depends.
Most spyware manufacturers conduct their operations as legal entities because of the methods used to transfer their spyware to computer systems.
The majority of ordinary people are of the belief that they haven’t given any form of authorization or consent to any spyware which gives them permission to access their data and information.
This permission, in a significant number of cases, comes in tandem with software and apps that the user has given their permission to.
The finer print meaning that the terms and conditions of the legitimate software has these permissions mentioned which most users, quite frankly, won't ever bother to read.
While most users will tend to ignore the complete details of these user agreements, spyware software providers and companies believe that consenting to these terms and conditions is proof that a user has demonstrated consent.
Spyware manufacturers believe that consumer license agreements make a contract based on the user going through each detail within the terms and making an informed decision, otherwise known as informed consent.
But one thing is very clear that if a malicious actor has chosen to infect your devices or computer system with a spyware without your consent is most definitely illegal.
In the US, if someone were to place spyware on a device without the owner’s consent, then they could be subject to the consequences that come underlined in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.