Spyware, a hidden threat | Definition, types and how to protect against them

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

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

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

Therefore, this blog explains what spyware is, its types, and how companies can prevent spyware attacks.

What is spyware?

Spyware is malicious software (malware) that accesses user information in an unethical way. Installed inside seemingly legitimate software or code, spyware can be used to track users

information, eavesdropping on conversations and stealing confidential information such as bank details. These details are then provided to advertisers or data companies.

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

Spyware can be difficult to detect because it is installed without the user’s permission and can go undetected 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 accesses systems and devices without the user’s consent is considered spyware. Some of the ways spyware insinuates itself into a system is when users access malicious websites and download files/attachments that contain malware. Once the application is activated, the spyware begins to spy, collect information and/or wreak havoc on the device.

For example, spyware can be used to:

  • Change system settings to generate pop-ups
  • Log keystrokes and capture screen to steal sensitive information
  • Record and abuse camera and/or voice calls
  • Steal RAM (random access memory) and slow down systems efficiency
  • Change system settings to allow pop-ups to flood the browser or open lots of advertisements

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

So if an employee accidentally falls for 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 organizations have seen malware spread from employee to employee. In 2021, this number increased to 74% and in 2022, it increased to 75%.

Hackers use a variety of techniques to install spyware into users’ systems, including Trojans, adware, password stealers, or information stealers. 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 companies should watch out for.

1. Trojan horse

Trojan horse is a type of malicious program or code that pretends to be a legitimate program to encourage users to click on it. Hackers use social engineering to run Trojans and steal private information and confidential files.

Intriguing offers such as email downloads, pop-ups with exciting schemes, etc. Trojans are found to account for 51.45% of all malware on the Internet.

2. Adware

Adware is advertising-supported software that tricks its users into clicking on it. Adware makes money for its developers by displaying advertisements on users’ devices, without their consent. Although adware is not exactly as dangerous as other attacks, it does violate users’ privacy for malicious purposes. Additionally, malicious code can be embedded in software, and adware can track system activity and can even compromise machines.

3. Password stealers

A password stealer is a type of malware that steals account information and login credentials. Cybercriminals use online advertisements 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. passwords, as well as remote access to infected Windows computers.

4. Information Stealer

Infostealer uses malicious attachments like Google advertisements, exploited websites and browser extensions to get backdoor access to user devices. Once inside, the hackers collect confidential information such as login details and send it via email or the Internet to another system. It can also include a user’s credit card information, account credentials, and other sensitive information that can make money for cyber criminals or is used to impersonate users. According to ASEC weekly malware statistics, information thieves 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 and the information of their customers and employees. Here are five ways businesses can avoid spyware attacks.

  • Download files and apps 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 like the real ones.
  • Install a reliable multi-layer anti-virus/anti-malware solution.
  • Refrain from interacting with pop-ups; installing a pop-up blocker can help you avoid them altogether.
  • 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.

Take away food

From tracking a user’s every move to stealing confidential information, spyware can do it all. Also, the longer it goes undetected, the more damage it can do.

Spyware is a favorite of cybercriminals due to its ability to penetrate a target’s computer system while masquerading as trustworthy software or browser extension.

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



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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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