Spyware is a malicious type of software designed to enter your system without your knowledge. Once it infiltrates your system, it gathers your data and sends it to third-parties without your consent. Legitimate software can also use spyware to gather your data only for advertising and other commercial purposes. Malicious spyware, however, has only one goal: to profit from data stolen from you.
Whether fraud or legitimate, spyware can lead to data breaches and misuse of personal data. Additionally, spyware can cause a significant lag in your computer’s performance. We’ve prepared this guide to help you understand what spyware do, why they are dangerous, how to protect your computer against them.
What is Spyware?
One thing is common to all spyware: they peek into your data and computer activity. Because some trusted applications and services use tracking tools that are spyware-like, the spyware word is usually used for malicious applications.
Malicious spyware installs itself on your device without your consent. Here are the various actions spyware takes on a device.
- Infiltrates: Spyware enters your computer via a malicious website, file attachment, or application install package.
- Monitors and captures data: Once installed, the spyware monitors and captures data via screen captures, keystrokes, and other tracking codes.
- Transmits stolen data: Lastly, the spyware transmits the stolen data to the malware author or sell it to interested parties.
Spyware may gather data pertaining to your online purchases or habits, but it can also be designed to gather more confidential data. Examples of data that spyware can collect include the following:
- Login details (usernames and passwords)
- Credit card details
- Account PINs
- Keyboard strokes
- Browsing habits
How Spyware Infiltrates Your Computer (and Other Devices)
Spyware, like other malware programs, install themselves on devices stealthily. For instance, bundled software packages are often used to spread spyware. When you install the intended software, spyware install itself without your knowledge or consent. Spyware may also enter your computer when you visit dubious websites. Spyware may also infiltrate your computer via attachments. Keep in mind that not all bundled spyware install them discreetly. Sometimes, a software program will refer to the use of spyware in its license agreement, but without actually using that specific term. By making the user install the complete software bundle in order to have access to the desired application or program, users unknowingly and voluntarily infect themselves.
Note: Spyware is not the same as computer viruses. Even though both are malicious programs that hide inside your device without your consent, virus replicates and infects other files on your computer. Spyware does not replicate.
Different types of Spyware
Here are the most common types of spyware:
Adware is most common threat faced by both consumers and businesses. When an infected computer connects to the internet, Adware starts flooding the screen with numerous popup ads. Additionally, adware may enable attackers to gather information regarding your browser history and sell it on dark web.
If you think of adware more as a nuisance than threat, there’s nothing benign about keylogger. It is designed to record the keystrokes on your computer. Just imaging the amount of data hackers can access—your search history, email activity, system credentials, browser history, and more. They can use this information to steal your data or money or sell it on the dark web.
Trojans get their name from the fact that they infiltrate a computer by disguising themselves as genuine programs and are designed to give hackers backdoor access to your control. Once attackers have this access, they can steal your data or infect more dangerous malware into your system.
Why Spyware is Dangerous?
Now that you know the different types of spyware, it’s time you understand the problems they can use.
One of the biggest threats of spyware is that they can steal your personal information, such as email accounts, browsing history, online banking passwords, and log in details for your social media accounts, and use all of this information for identity theft. Additionally, if the malware author has access to your online banking details and credit card details, they can sell those details to a third-party or steal your money themselves.
Spyware, especially those which are poorly-designed, can drain your computer’s resources and cause all sort of performance-related issues. Over time, their hogging of computer resources can lead to frequent overheating or system crashes.
Disrupt the browsing experience
Many spyware are designed to alter certain computer’s settings, change your home page, and deliver unwanted websites in the browser. These websites can lead you toward potentially fraudulent or harmful websites. Spyware can also lead to popup advertisements, even when you are offline.
How to spot an infection
Because spyware can alter the security settings of your computer, spotting them can at times be tricky. Watch out for the red flags mentioned below. If you see any of them, it’s possible your system is infected:
- Sudden appearance of pop-up ads
- Sudden and significant drop in your computer’s performance
- Frequent system crashes
- Significant increase in CPU usage
- Your homepage has changed or you are frequently auto-directed when online
- Your security software is not functioning properly
Tips for preventing spyware infection
Like with many things in life, when it comes to protecting yourself against spyware, prevention is better than cure. You will need to be more careful when you are online and invest in reputable protection software.
Following these tips can help reduce your risk of spyware infection significantly.
Install a security software tool with spyware protection
An advanced antivirus tool with dedicated spyware protection will stop malware including spyware before it infiltrates your computer. Make sure your software can do real-time monitoring and don’t forget to update it on a regular basis.
Don’t click on unsolicited ads
Not all online advertisements contain spyware, but many of them do. You can significantly reduce the chances of infection not clicking on online ads. While browsing if you come across something that you want to buy, purchase it directly from the official website or a reputable website.
Don’t download software before reading reviews
Want to install an app? Before you click the ‘download’ button, google it to check its reviews. If there are more positive reviews than negative reviews, you can rest easy in knowledge that the app is a genuine one. Also, as much as possible, download new apps only from their official websites.
Adjust the security settings of your browser
Every browser has a number of security settings which you can use to determine how your data will be used. Depending on your preferences, you can share only some information, disable cookies completely, or enable them only for specific websites. After you have set the desired settings, monitor them on a regular basis to ensure there are no unauthorized changes.
You should not open an unsolicited email attachment or click on a link included in an unsolicited email.
Install a firewall
A firewall can block risky websites, reducing your risk of being infected with spyware.
Tips for removing Spyware
In case you suspect your computer’s security has been breached, immediately disconnect your device from the internet. As said earlier, spyware transmits your data over the internet, so disconnecting your computer from the internet will immediately stop this process. Next, run a full system scan using your antivirus software and remove the malware.
Updating Drivers Automatically
Automatic driver update tools offer many benefits, the most important ones being:
- You can update device drivers automatically
- The software scans and updates all outdated or missing drivers at one go
- The tool picks the right drivers for your device and operating system, so you won’t have to worry about installing an incorrect driver by mistake
- Automatic driver updates are 100% safe
Driver Updater is one of the best driver update tools out there. Outbyte Driver Updater will give you access to a database of over 1 million drivers. It will regularly scan your PC, suggesting new driver versions to install. Driver Updater contains drivers for a variety of Windows devices. With just one click, you can update drivers in your system.
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