Using spyware, hackers can record your keystrokes, take pictures of your desktop, read your emails, make copies of your files, and much more. Spyware is a type of malware that runs in the background, without your knowledge. It collects information about your activities on the computer, sending the data to hackers through your Internet connection. Cybercriminals often use this information to steal money, personal data, and intellectual property. Governments have even been found to use spyware to keep tabs on people.
Some security experts include adware — hidden programs designed to display targeted advertising content on web browsers — under the spyware umbrella, but others do not. Although adware can be problematic, it should not be treated on the same level as spyware, according to Actiance Security Labs researchers. They note that lumping the two together dilutes the threat of real spyware.
Symptoms of a Spyware Infection
While an adware infection has many telltale symptoms (e.g., numerous pop-up ads, web browser's home page mysteriously changes), the same cannot be said for a spyware infection. It is designed to run in stealth mode.
A few vague symptoms might appear, though. For example, you might experience one or more of the following:
Your computer might be slow when opening applications or performing tasks because the spyware is using the computer's memory and system resources.
Your Internet connection could slow down when the spyware is using your Internet bandwidth to send data back to the hackers.
When you type on your keyboard, there might be a pause before the resulting action displays onscreen if the spyware is logging your keystrokes.
An application could freeze or your computer might crash because the spyware is causing system instability.
If your computer is exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your IT service provider. They can determine whether spyware or another problem is causing the computer issues you are experiencing.
Taking Preventive Measures Is Crucial
Spyware is typically difficult to discover and remove because it is designed to work covertly. Therefore, taking preventative measures is crucial.
For starters, you should use anti-malware software that includes anti-spyware protection. If your anti-malware software does not include it, there are standalone anti-spyware programs available. However, do not click any Internet pop-up ads for free anti-spyware software. This software might contain spyware or other types of malware. Obtain your anti-spyware program directly from a reputable vendor or another trusted source.
The same holds true for other types of applications. Only download them from reputable online sources. Cybercriminals like to embed spyware in programs they offer for free on the Internet.
Another way cybercriminals like to propagate spyware is through malicious websites. So, avoid questionable websites and resist the urge to enable web content that has been blocked by your web browser or security software.
Cybercriminals also spread spyware through phishing emails. For this reason, do not click links or open attachments in emails from people you do not know (unless it is part of your job). Also, be wary of links and attachments in emails from people you know or people who seem to know you. They might be spear phishing emails that hackers created for the purpose of spreading spyware.
Finally, keep your operating system and applications updated. That way, cybercriminals cannot get access to your computer through known security vulnerabilities.
Contact your IT service provider for further suggestions on how to avoid getting infected with spyware and other types of malware.