Spyware: Everything You Need to Know
Spyware is a type of malware that secretly gathers private information about a person’s online activity without being detected by the person who’s affected. According to Erictech, a spyware detector and antivirus company, it’s a type of malware that allows the user to analyze and retrieve data from another computer while being undetected.
Spyware was first introduced in 1999 by a popular freeware game known as “Elf Bowling,” which came with a tracking software. Many internet users that installed the game had their computer infected. The software tracked their online activities and captured sensitive data such as sites visited, emails, keystrokes and more.
Types of Spyware
Spyware is mostly divided into 4 types: adware, tracking cookies, system monitors, and trojans.
Adware is an ad supporting software that comes bundled with some freeware apps. Developers mainly include adware to recover development costs. So they provide the app for free or at a discounted price.
Both internet advertisers and marketing companies widely use tracking cookies to track the activities of internet users on a website and collect information about them. The information gathered are later stored in data files.
System monitors are applications or software that is used to track the activities that are happening on a user’s computer or cell phone. They are mostly stealth and work dependently while remaining hidden in the background.
A Trojan is a harmful piece of software that looks legitimate. Trojans cannot only steal your data but can give cyber theft access to your system. Users are typically tricked into executing it on their systems.
Why you should be Afraid of Spyware
Spyware is hard to detect, especially when it’s designed for malicious purposes. It lies hidden and dormant until the person who installs the it activates it from the outside and starts recording information about your activities on the computer.
According to research, over 800 million photos get shared publicly on social media and your friends aren’t the only ones following you. A company known as Ditto Lab is using image scanning and facial recognition software to mine images for corporate brands identifying, logos, tracking product usage, and measuring your expressions to track brand sentiment.
The company is also known to use that information to build a secret online profile of you to turn a “branding opportunity.” “If I look at a photo you took two years ago, I could tell a lot about you,” says David Rose, Ditto Labs CEO.
Another dreadful spyware is a Cryptolocker. Cryptolocker encrypts all your information and use the encryption key to hold you hostage.
“I got a message on my computer telling me that if I don’t pay $65 within a few days, they are going to delete the encryption key and all the data in my computer will be lost forever.” Said Marvin, a New York based student.
Just like Marvin, if you happen to get this type of message, then your computer has been infected with Cryptolocker.
Ad Injection Spyware
Another type of spyware that we normally see around us is the Ad injection spyware. These can read your internet history of all kinds of searches then package the information and sell it to advertising companies.
The advertising companies then build a profile of you and use it to inject Ads into the websites you visit. Hackers are getting money by forcing you to open advertisements you never intended to open.
Another sub-genre of spyware is called a Keylogger. A keylogger is a type of application that will log every keystroke you type into your computer and log every mouse click as well as the location on your screen where you click it.
A Keylogger spyware can tell what your active window is and what you’re typing in that active window. If you log into your bank account, a keylogger can read all of the keystrokes that you make as well as inform the hacker about your bank account login details.
A hacker can find out the type of information you were typing and where you are typing into. Unfortunately, Keyloggers are the most undetected type of spyware and are extremely dangerous.
Signs that Spyware has infected your Computer
You can easily be infected if you download or open a file that contains spyware. The problem is you often don’t realize it’s been downloaded until something bad happens.
So what are the signs that spyware has infected your computer? The first sign is that you will see pop-up ads all the time. “I had pop-up ads on my PC, telling me that my computer had been infected,” says Mark whose computer was severely infected by a Trojan.
If a Trojan infects your computer, the spyware will give you a particular link to scan your computer. If you click on that link, you will get bombarded with even more unwanted malware. So, it is advisable not to click on the link.
Another sign to look out for is having your settings changed without your knowledge. Especially be careful if you notice a setting keeps reverting when you’ve changed it repeatedly.
The third sign is that your computer becomes really sluggish. Spyware can take up a lot of system resource since it’s trying to track all your activities consistently and deliver that information to advertisers.
If your computer becomes extremely slow or if your browser takes you to pages other than the ones you have clicked, then start following the steps below to remove malware from your computer.
How can you Remove and Prevent Spyware?
To remove spyware from your computer, you’ll need antivirus software that comes with an Anti-spyware protection to find and eliminate them.
However, removing spyware most times can be a real pain. So, prevention is better than cure. The best way to protect your computer from spyware is to keep your operating system clean by downloading regular patches, updates and making sure that you get the latest antivirus software from a trusted company.
You also want to make sure that you only download software from reliable and trusted sources. You should also refrain from clicking pop-up ads and delete emails from an unknown source even before opening those emails.