What is Spyware

November 12, 2021

With the rise in concern regarding personal privacy, discussions are rising about the ethicality of websites and corporations monitoring user interactions and data. One prominent topic which commonly arises throughout these discussions is Spyware. But what is Spyware and how can I keep myself safe?

 

What is spyware?

Simply put, Spyware is a form of malware (malicious software) that aims to gather information about an end user and more commonly than not, relay the information back to the original author; you can read more about malware here. Conventionally labeled as non-harmful, spyware was viewed by the general population as special-purpose espionage software and although intrusive, presented no critical issue as the extent of its ability was only to read your data. However, in the current day and age, the ability to read personal data is indeed one of the biggest critical issues - data is one of the most valuable resources in the world, comparable to gold or oil (Source). Company's pay top dollar for consumer and market data and where there is demand, there is always supply. With the demand to monetize data, hackers and criminals have resorted to spyware as a means to collect and subsequently sell data such as PII (Personal Identifiable Information), Cookies, shopping trends, and search keywords to anyone willing to purchase. Spyware is an umbrella term covering multiple different methods of intrusion and monitoring, including:

Adware: Adware is a common type of spyware mainly used by advertisers. When you go online, it records your web surfing habits to gather information on the type of sites you search for. This information is used to direct marketing pop-ups and spam email.

 

Key Logger: Key Loggers are designed to steal personal information by logging the actual keystrokes you type on your computer. When you enter a PIN, password, or credit card number the keyword logger records it for the hacker. This information can be used to access systems and commit identity theft and fraud.

 

Mobile spyware: Mobile spyware is dangerous because it can be transferred through Short Message Service or Multimedia Messaging Service text messages and typically does not require user interaction to execute commands. When a smartphone or tablet gets infected with mobile spyware that is sideloaded with a third-party app, the phone's camera and microphone can be used to spy on nearby activity, record phone calls, and log browsing activity and keystrokes. The device owner's location can also be monitored through the Global Positioning System (GPS). You can read more about Mobile spyware and the infamous Pegasus spyware here. (Source)

 

Trojans: Trojans are typically malware programs that are disguised as legitimate software. A victim of a Trojan could unknowingly install a file posing as an official program, enabling the Trojan to access the computer. The Trojan can then delete files, encrypt files for ransom or enable other malicious actors to have access to the user's information. (Source)

 

What can I do to protect myself?

With the need to protect your personal and private data ever so prevalent, what steps can you take as an individual to ensure that your private data remains private? There are multiple best practices including:

- Using a trusted antivirus software with anti-spyware features

- Be wary of suspicious email attachments and online pop-ups

- Keep your computer up-to-date

Have More Questions?

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