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Spyware, a hidden threat | Definition, types and how to protect yourself from it

Spyware (a type of malware) is one of the oldest hacking techniques used by hackers. Its ability to sneak in unnoticed allows hackers to lurk in the background and extract sensitive information without being easily caught.

Spyware can exploit not only the devices and personal information of individuals but also companies.

According to the latest statistics, malware has been on the rise for the last 10 years. In 2020, Kaspersky detected 360,000 new malicious files, a 5.2% increase over the previous year.

So this blog explains what spyware is, its types, and how organizations can prevent spyware attacks.

What is spyware?

Spyware is malicious software (malware) that unethically accesses user information. Installed in seemingly legitimate software or code, spyware can be used to control the

information, eavesdrop on conversations and steal confidential information such as bank details. These details are then made available to advertisers or data companies.

Spyware is one of the most common Internet attacks, jeopardizing a company’s intellectual property, trade secrets, product blueprints, and prototype software, among other sensitive information.

Spyware can be difficult to detect because it installs without user authorization and can go unnoticed for months. But one of the first symptoms of spyware in a device is a significant decrease in connection speed or processor.

How does spyware work?

Any software that gains access to systems and devices without the user’s consent is considered spyware. One of the ways spyware sneaks into a system is when users access malicious websites and download files/attachments containing malicious software. Once the application is activated, the spyware starts spying, gathering information and/or wreaking havoc on the device.

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For example, spyware can be used to:

  • Change the system setting to generate popups
  • Record keystrokes and capture screen to steal confidential information
  • Record and abuse camera and/or voice calls
  • Steal RAM (Random Access Memory) and reduce the efficiency of systems
  • Change the system settings so that pop-ups flood the browser or open numerous ads

While spyware can pose a threat to individuals, businesses can also be a target. Spyware can change firewall settings to allow even more malware into the network.

So if an employee accidentally falls into a spyware attack, they can exploit the entire network. This can lead to data breaches and the loss of confidential customer information. Statistics show that 61% of companies spread malware from one employee to another. In 2021, that number increased to 74% and in 2022 to 75%.

Hackers use various techniques to install spyware on users’ systems, including Trojan horses, adware, password stealers or info stealers. Let’s learn more about it.

4 Types of Spyware Attacks

While spyware can be disguised in a variety of ways, here are 4 common spyware techniques businesses should look out for.

1. Trojan horse

Trojan horse is a type of malware program or code that impersonates a legitimate program in order to trick users into clicking on it. Hackers use social engineering to run Trojan horses and steal private information and confidential files.

Fascinating offers such as email downloads, pop-ups with exciting schemes, and more act as clickbait, enticing users to click on seemingly harmless files, thereby allowing malware to sneak into their systems. It can be seen that Trojans account for 51.45% of all malware on the web.

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2.Adware

Adware is adware that motivates its users to click on it. Adware earns money for its developers by displaying ads on users’ devices without consent. While adware isn’t exactly as harmful as other attacks, it does invade users’ privacy for malicious purposes. In addition, malicious code can be embedded in software, and adware can track system activity and even compromise computers.

3. Password Thieves

A password thief is a type of malware that steals account information and login credentials. Cyber ​​criminals use online ads or fake versions of popular software to trick users into downloading malware, which has malicious browser extension with trojan-like abilities and offers attackers usernames and passwords and remote access to infected Windows computers.

4. Info stealer

Infostealer uses malicious attachments like Google ads, exploited websites and browser extensions to gain access into users’ devices through backdoors. Once hackers get in, they collect sensitive information like login credentials and send them to another system via email or web. This can also include a user’s bank card information, account logins, and other sensitive information that cyber criminals can use to make money or used to impersonate the user. According to ASEC Weekly Malware Statistics, infostealers topped the list with 38.6% of attacks from July 25, 2022 to July 31, 2022.

How can these violations be prevented?

Spyware prevention is essential for businesses to protect the integrity of their data, customer and employee information. Here are five ways businesses can avoid spyware attacks.

  • Download files and applications from trusted websites/sources only.
  • Pay close attention to email addresses before clicking on any links or attachments you receive, as hackers create links that look exactly like real ones.
  • Install a trusted multi-layered anti-virus/anti-malware solution.
  • Refrain from interacting with pop-ups; Installing a pop-up blocker can help you avoid them completely.
  • Keep operating systems and other applications up to date as some include security patches.
  • Ensure strong passwords by creating a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. If possible, enable two-factor authentication.
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Whether it’s tracking a user’s every move or stealing sensitive information, spyware can do it all. Also, the longer it goes undetected, the more damage it can do.

Spyware is popular with cybercriminals because it can infiltrate a target’s computer system while posing as a trusted software program or browser extension.

By continuously educating employees and strengthening the company’s security backbone, IT pros can keep attacks like spyware at bay.

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Disclaimer

The views expressed above are the author’s own.



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