Spyware: What Is It and How to Protect Yourself?

By Haseeb Awan

As you surf online, flip through your social media feeds, or shop online, your privacy is not secured, let alone decentralized, as long as you connect with the internet. There is a monitoring spirit on the internet that tracks your activity and collects your data, without your permission, with the aid of harmful software called spyware. It is one of the oldest internet threats and attacks that infect your computer to perpetrate malicious activities such as data breaches. It is so easy to fall prey to and can be hard to get rid of spyware attacks- as it does not come easily with an uninstall feature. Worry less, we've got you covered with all you need to know about spyware attacks and their prevention techniques. Continue reading to find out how to prevent spyware attacks. 

What is Spyware?

Before we dive into the explanation of spyware, there is a need to know about malware. According to Wikipedia, Malware (a portmanteau for malicious software) is any software intentionally designed to disrupt a computer, server, client, or computer network. It leaks private information, gains unauthorized access to information or systems, deprives users of data access, or unknowingly interferes with the user's computer security and privacy.  

Spyware is malware that attempts to remain undetectable while secretly monitoring your internet activities on your PCs or mobile devices, not only this but also breaching and thefting your data. It can monitor and copy every data that you enter, upload, download, and save on your computer ranging from usernames, and passwords, to contact information, to mention a few. Some Spywares can activate your webcam or even your microphones or speakers to monitor and listen to you undetectably. 

From its name- spyware, it gets into your computer as a spy and attaches itself to your operating system in a sneaky way- without your permission. Unknowingly, you may even permit spyware to install itself owing to your agreement on the terms and conditions of software you think are legit without reading them. Do you now understand what spyware is?

How do Spywares Get Into Your Computer?

There are various methods spyware might infiltrate your computer; here are some of the common ways:  

Marketing: Cybercriminals employ misleading marketing strategies to pitch their spyware programs as a helpful tool (it may be a hard disk drive cleaner and the likes) to download. Take cover from this type of mouth-watering bait, as installing it may result in an accidental spyware infection. And the ugly side of this is that, even if you eventually uninstall the tool that infected you, the spyware stays and continues to function. 

Spoofing & Phishing: Phishing occurs when attackers attempt to convince you via a CTA ( a call to action), such as clicking a link to a spyware-infested landing page, or opening an infectious email, otherwise known as malspam. Spoofing is the process of masquerading phishing emails and websites to appear to come from trusted entities already known to you.   

Free giveaways: Another way to easily get spyware into your computer is via free software (freeware). It may lure you into installing spyware unknowingly via free software. You may even discover that you consented to the spyware's installation when you accepted the terms of the agreement. 

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How to Know If You Have Spyware?

As mentioned earlier, spyware is designed in such a way to be undetectable and untraceable, making detection difficult. However, there are ways to tell if spyware is on your computer.

  • Your device operates at a slower rate than usual.
  • You experience frequent computer crashes
  • You receive a barrage of pop-ups.
  •  In the taskbar, new and/or unrecognizable icons appear.
  • You are redirected to a different search engine when you conduct a web search. 

If you experience any or all of these, there is a higher probability of having spyware(s) installed on your computer. 

How Do I Remove Spyware, and What to Do in Case of a Detected Spyware?

If you suspect spyware with one of the symptoms mentioned above, below are some steps to uninstall it.

  1. Invest in a strong Cybersecurity program known for its aggressive spyware removal and anti-malware operating system. An excellent example of this is the Malwarebytes which thoroughly cleans spyware footprints. 
  2. After cleaning your system, consider contacting your financial institutions swiftly to alert them to any possible and plausible fraudulent activity. And if altered and stolen data are sensitive materials, it is better to contact the local enforcement agencies in your locality to alert them.

How Do I Protect Myself from Spyware?

While there is no fool-proof 100% way to stop spyware, you may protect yourself via some steps, such as:

  •  Making use of a robust anti-virus software program with dedicated anti-spyware features
  • Take caution and pay attention to your downloads.
  • Watch your click on online pop-ups; you should install a pop-up blocker such as the Poper Blocker.
  • Also, keep an eagle eye on your emails and spams. Downloading documents or files from emails that you don't recognize or feel suspicious of fraudulent activities is a sure-fire way to install spyware on your system.
  • Before clicking on links, hover over on them with your mouse to ensure the links will direct you to the correct webpage. 

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