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 without being noticed allows hackers to lurk in the background and extract confidential information without being caught easily.

Spyware can exploit not only individuals’ devices and personal information but also businesses.

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

Therefore, this blog discusses what spyware is, its types, and how businesses can prevent spyware attacks.

What is Spyware?

Spyware is malicious software (malware) that accesses user information unethically. Installed inside a seemingly legitimate software or code, spyware can be used to track users’

information, drop on conversations, and steal confidential information like banking details. These details are then supplied to advertisers or data firms.

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

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

How Does Spyware Work?

Any software that gets access to systems and devices without user consent is considered spyware. Some of the ways spyware creeps into a system is when users access malicious websites and download files/attachments with malicious software. Once the application gets activated, the spyware starts to spy, collect information, and/or wreak havoc on the device.

For example, spyware can be used to:

  • Change system setting to generate pop-ups
  • Record keystrokes and capture screen to steal sensitive information
  • Record and misuse camera and/or voice calls
  • Steal RAM (random access memory) and bog down systems’ efficiency
  • Change systems settings to allow pop-ups to flood the browser or open numerous ads

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

So if an employee accidentally falls into the trap of a spyware attack, it can exploit the entire network. It can lead to data breaches and loss of customers’ confidential information. Statistics show that 61% of organizations experienced malware spread from one employee to another. In 2021, that number grew to 74%, and in 2022, it went up to 75%.

Hackers utilize various techniques to install spyware into users’ systems, including trojan horses, Adware, password stealer, or info stealer. Let’s learn more about it.

4 Types of Spyware Attacks

While spyware can be disguised in various forms, here are 4 common spyware techniques businesses should look out for.

1. Trojan Horse

The Trojan Horse is a type of malware program or code that masquerades as a legitimate program to encourage users to click on it. Hackers leverage social engineering to carry out Trojan Horses and steal private information and confidential files.

Intriguing offers like email downloads, pop-ups offering exciting schemes, and more act as clickbait and lure users to click on seemingly harmless files, allowing malware to creep into their systems. It’s seen that Trojans account for 51.45% of all malware on the internet.

2.Adware

Adware is advertisement-supported software that motivates its users to click on it. Adware makes money for its developers by displaying ads on users’ devices, without consent. While Adware isn’t exactly as harmful as other attacks, it breaches users’ privacy for malicious purposes. In addition, malicious code can be embedded inside software, and Adware can track system activity and may even compromise machines.

3. Password Stealers

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

4. Infostealer

Infostealer uses malicious attachments like Google ads, exploited websites, and browser extensions to get backdoor access to users’ devices. Once in, hackers gather confidential information like login details and send it over email or the internet to another system. This can also include a user’s bank card information, account logins, and other sensitive information that can make money for cybercriminals or are used to impersonate the users. According to ASEC Weekly Malware Statistics, infostealers topped the list with 38.6% of attacks from 25th July 2022 to 31st July 2022.

How to Prevent These Breaches?

Preventing spyware is essential for companies to protect the integrity of their data and customers’ and employees’ information. Here are five ways companies can avoid attacks by spyware.

  • Download files and applications only from trusted websites/sources.
  • Pay close attention to email addresses before clicking on any links or attachments received, as hackers create links that look the same as real ones.
  • Install a trusted multilayered anti-virus/anti-malware solution.
  • Chorus from interacting with pop-ups; installing a pop-up blocker can help you avoid them entirely.
  • Keep operating systems and other applications up-to-date, as some contain security patches.
  • Keep passwords strong by creating a mix of upper and lower-case alphabets, numbers, and special characters. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.

Takeaways

Whether it’s tracking a user’s every move or stealing confidential information, spyware can do it all. Plus, the longer it goes undetected, the more damage it can do.

Spyware is a favorite among cybercriminals because of its ability to enter a target’s computer system while posing as a trustworthy software program or browser extension.

Thus, by educating employees on an ongoing basis and strengthening the security backbone of the enterprise, IT professionals can keep attacks like spyware at bay.



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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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