Paksofto secures your PC and network from spyware and malware can infect your system in the same ways as any other form of malware. Here are a few of spyware’s main techniques to infect your PC or mobile device. When you go online, don’t assume that your privacy is secure. Prying eyes often follow your activity—and your personal information—with a pervasive form of malicious software called spyware. In fact, it’s one of the oldest and most widespread threats on the Internet, secretly infecting your computer in order to initiate a variety of illegal activities, including identity theft or a data breach. It’s easy to fall prey to and can be hard to get rid of, especially since you’re most likely not even aware of it. But relax; we’ve got your back with all you need to know about what spyware is, how you get it, what it tries to do to you, how to deal with it, and what to do to avoid future spyware attacks.
Spyware. Although it sounds like a James Bond gadget, it’s actually a type of malware that infects your PC or mobile device and gathers information about you, including the sites you visit, the things you download, your usernames and passwords, payment information, and the emails you send and receive.
No big surprise—spyware is sneaky. It finds its way onto your computer without your knowledge or permission, attaching itself to your operating system. You might even inadvertently permit spyware to install itself when you agree to the terms and conditions of a seemingly legitimate program without reading the fine print.
Whatever way spyware manages to get on your PC, the method of operation is generally the same—it runs quietly in the background, maintaining a secret presence, collecting information, or monitoring your activities in order to trigger malicious activities related to your computer and how you use it. And even if you discover its unwelcome presence on your system, Spyware does not come with an easy uninstall feature.
“Spyware runs quietly in the background, collecting information.”
Spyware can infect your system in the same ways as any other form of malware. Here are a few of spyware’s main techniques to infect your PC or mobile device.
“Mobile spyware has been around since mobile devices became mainstream.”
In most of the cases, the functionality of any spyware threat depends on the intentions of its authors. For example, some typical functions designed into spyware include the following.
When spyware goes mainstream
Unpacking the spyware disguised as antivirus
Spyware installed on Android devices to stalk domestic abuse victims
As with much Internet discourse, it’s difficult to pin down exactly where “spyware” as a word and a concept originated. Public references to the term date back to Usenet discussions happening in the mid-90s. By the early 2000s, “spyware” was being used by cybersecurity companies, in much the same way we might use the term today; i.e. some sort of unwanted software program designed to spy on your computer activity.
In June 2000, the first anti-spyware application was released. In October 2004, America Online and the National Cyber-Security Alliance performed a survey. The result was startling. About 80% of all Internet users have their system affected by spyware, about 93% of spyware components are present in each of the computers, and 89% of the computer users were unaware of their existence. Out of the affected parties, almost all, about 95%, confessed that they never granted permission to install them.
At present, and in general, the Windows operating system is the preferred target for spyware applications, thanks largely to its widespread use. However, in recent years spyware developers have also turned their attention to the Apple platform, as well as to mobile devices.
Spyware authors have historically concentrated on the Windows platform because of its large user base when compared to the Mac. However, the industry has seen a big jump in Mac malware since 2017, the majority of which is spyware. Although spyware authored for the Mac has similar behaviors as the Windows variety, most of the Mac spyware attacks are either password stealers or general-purpose backdoors. In the latter category, the spyware’s malicious intent includes remote code execution, keylogging, screen captures, arbitrary file uploads and downloads, password phishing, and so on.
“The industry has seen a big jump in Mac malware in 2017, the majority of which is spyware.”
In addition to malicious spyware, there’s also so-called “legitimate” spyware for Macs. This software is actually sold by a real company, from a real website, usually with the stated goal of monitoring children or employees. Of course, such software is a two-edged sword, as it’s very often misused, providing the average user with a way of accessing spyware capabilities without needing any special knowledge.
Mobile spyware hides undetected in the background (creating no shortcut icon) on a mobile device and steals information such as incoming/outgoing SMS messages, incoming/outgoing call logs, contact lists, emails, browser history, and photos. Mobile spyware can also potentially log your keystrokes, record anything within the distance of your device’s microphone, secretly take pictures in the background, and track your device’s location using GPS. In some cases, spyware apps can even control devices via commands sent by SMS messages and/or remote servers. The spyware can send your stolen information via data transfer to a remote server or through email.
Also, it’s not just consumers that mobile spyware criminals target. If you use your smartphone or tablet in the workplace, hackers can turn their attack to your employer organization through vulnerabilities in mobile devices. Moreover, your corporation’s incident response team may not detect breaches that originate through a mobile device.
Spyware breaches on smartphones commonly occur in three ways:
Unlike some other types of malware, spyware authors do not really target specific groups of people. Instead, most spyware attacks cast a wide net to collect as many potential victims as possible. And that makes everyone a spyware target, as even the slightest bit of information, might find a buyer.
“Spyware attacks cast a wide net to collect as many potential victims as possible.”
For instance, spammers will buy email addresses and passwords in order to support malicious spam or other forms of impersonation. Spyware attacks on financial information can drain bank accounts or can support other forms of fraud using legitimate bank accounts.
Information obtained through stolen documents, pictures, videos, or other digital items can even be used for extortion purposes.
So, at the end of the day, no one is immune from spyware attacks, and attackers usually care little about whom they are infecting, as opposed to what they are after.
If your spyware infection is working as designed, it will be invisible unless you’re technically savvy enough to know exactly where to look. You could be infected and never know. But if you suspect spyware, here’s what to do.
“Many purveyors of identity theft protection advertise their services to monitor for fraudulent transactions…”
The best defense against spyware, as with most malware, starts with your behavior. Follow these basics of good cyber self-defense.
A quick note about real-time protection. Real-time protection automatically blocks spyware and other threats before they can activate on your computer. Some traditional cybersecurity or antivirus products rely heavily on signature-based technology—these products can be easily circumvented by today’s modern threats.
You should also look out for features that block the delivery of spyware itself on your machine, such as anti-exploit technology and malicious website protection, which blocks websites that host spyware. The premium version of Malwarebytes has a solid reputation for spyware protection.
Digital life comes with ubiquitous dangers in the daily online landscape. Fortunately, there are straightforward and effective ways to protect yourself. Between a cybersecurity suite and commonsense precautions, you should be able to keep every machine you use free from spyware invasions and their malicious intent.
See all our reporting on spyware at Malwarebytes Labs.