What Is Spyware? Protecting Your Data Against a Common Threat

What Is Spyware? Protecting Your Data Against a Common Threat
Joe Michalowski
Posted: March 31, 2019

Ransomware, cryptomining, phishing, and denial of service (DoS)—these are the types of cyber attacks that people and businesses have come to fear most in recent years.

However, with all the attention paid to these kinds of high-profile attacks, defending against spyware is becoming less of a concern. The problem is that even now, spyware is still the most common way for attackers to conduct cybercrime against businesses.

Data is your most valuable business asset and you can’t afford to let attackers steal it with a simple piece of spyware. That’s why it’s more important than ever to understand what spyware is and how to defend against it.

What Is Spyware?

Spyware is a subset of malware that’s downloaded on a user’s device without authorization, creating a foothold to steal all kinds of sensitive data. Your data is forwarded to the attacker’s computer to be sold on the dark web or otherwise compromised.

Much like other forms of malware, attackers can create zero-day spyware threats that are able to evade cybersecurity tools and compromise your network. For consumers, spyware can lead to identity theft and credit card fraud while business users can be compromised for the attacker to:

  • Record phone calls
  • Take screenshots of the desktop
  • Steal files from storage
  • Spy on browser activity
  • Compromise admin credentials to launch more serious threats
  • And more

What Is Spyware?

Photo by Negative Space from Pexels

However, not all spyware is created equal. Like other types of malware, spyware is a category that can be further broken down into unique threat vectors. While there are many different types of spyware, the four most common categories include:

1. Adware

This is the most common form of spyware and one of the most common threats to both businesses and consumers.

Adware detects when a compromised device accesses the internet and begins flooding the user with popup ads. And while this might be seen as more of a nuisance than anything, adware also enables attackers to spy on browser history and sell data on the dark web.

2. Keylogger

Keyloggers are one of the most subtle and dangerous forms of spyware because they allow attackers to monitor and record any keystrokes on a computer.

Think of all the different inputs this would apply to—search history, internal communications like instant messaging, email activity, browser history, system credentials and more. All of that information can give attackers more than enough data to either sell or use as a stepping stone to more advanced threats.

3. Trojans

Often associated with computer viruses, Trojans are malicious pieces of software that can disguise themselves as legitimate programs. Something like a harmless Java update pop up can easily be compromised by Trojan malware that goes on to compromise sensitive information on your computer.

Unlike more passive types of spyware, Trojans can often give attackers backdoor access to your device and let them control activity. That means your data can be downloaded and exfiltrated or more malware can be uploaded to your system.

4. Mobile Spyware

Because mobile devices have become such a critical component of the workplace, it’s more important than ever to protect your data against mobile threats. Mobile spyware, in particular, can infect mobile employees by compromising SMS and MMS communications.

This type of malware gives attackers access to all kinds of mobile usage—phone conversations, text messaging, app usage, browser history, Bluetooth connectivity, and more.

How to Protect Your Data Against Spyware

Like other forms of malware, spyware often gets on employee devices through human error. All it takes is for one employee to click a malicious link or fall victim to a phishing campaign for spyware to infect a device. And from there, attackers are free to compromise data or advance more dangerous attacks.

Because human error plays such a vital role in spyware delivery, the first step for data protection should be to train employees for cybersecurity awareness. The better your employees are at spotting potential threats, the less likely it is that you’ll experience an attack.

However, employee training isn’t always enough. And that’s when you have to trust advanced antivirus tools that include spyware detection as well as protection against other forms of malware. The right tool will continuously monitor for spyware and other malicious activity to form a protective barrier in case employees unknowingly fall victim to an attack.

But what happens if you’re reading this and your device is already infected with malware? Maybe your applications have slowed to a crawl or your CPU activity is unusually high. In that case, you need a tool that can reliably detect spyware that exists on your device.

If you want to check your device for malware, take a look at our free vulnerability scanner and see if attackers are trying to compromise your computer as we speak.

About the Author

Joe Michalowski
Joe Michalowski

Joe Michalowski covers B2B tech topics including cybersecurity, digital transformation, IT infrastructure, and more.