What is Spyware? Examples & Types of Spyware Explained

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What is Spyware

How often do you check your computer for spyware? Do you know what types of spyware exist and how to protect against them? Spyware is a type of malware that gathers information from its host computer without the user’s knowledge. There are several different types of spyware, with each having its own purpose and level of damage it can cause. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the different types of spyware, examples of each, how to protect against them, and more.

Define spyware and its purpose

Malicious actors install spyware on computers without the user’s knowledge, making it a type of malicious software (malware). Its main purpose is to collect information and data about the user, such as browsing habits, personal information, passwords, or even financial information. The spyware creator can then use this data for various purposes, from advertising to stealing identities, by sending it back to them.

Detecting spyware can be difficult due to its secretive nature and the fact that it is often installed without the user’s knowledge. The only way to know if you have spyware on your computer is to take certain measures, such as running a scan with an antivirus program or manually checking for suspicious activity.

Examples of common spyware types

Spyware can take many forms and have various functions. Here are some of the most common spyware examples:

Key loggers or system monitors

Key loggers track and record keystrokes or mouse clicks. Malicious actors use this type of spyware to steal passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. It can also be used to monitor activities on the computer, such as which websites are visited and what programs are opened. They usually access the computer through malicious programs or emails.

Adware

Adware is a type of spyware that shows advertisements on the computer. Often, these ads will be tailored to the user’s browsing history or interests. Adware can also collect data about the user and send it back to its creator for marketing purposes. Additionally, the adware can slow down your computer by taking up resources or redirecting you to malicious websites.

Trojans

Trojans are malicious programs disguised as legitimate software. They typically infect computers when a user downloads the infected program, often from an unreliable source. Once on your computer, Trojans can spy on you, steal personal information and passwords, or even delete files.

Browser hijackers

Browser hijackers are malicious programs that take over your browser and redirect you to certain websites without your permission. This type of spyware can also change your browser’s settings and prevent you from accessing certain sites. It’s usually installed through deceptive ads or links and can be difficult to remove without the help of professional antivirus software.

Rootkit

Rootkit spyware is particularly dangerous because it can remain hidden on your computer and is difficult to detect. Rootkits enter computers through malicious emails, downloads, or websites and give hackers the ability to control your machine remotely. They can also steal sensitive information, cause system instability, and even delete files.

Web beacons

Web beacons are tiny pieces of code that can be embedded in web pages or emails and used to track user activity. They usually collect data such as IP address, time spent on the page, and which links have been clicked. Web beacons are often used by websites to create targeted ads based on a user’s browsing habits.

Password theft spyware

Password theft spyware is designed to steal passwords and other confidential information. It usually does this by recording keystrokes or taking screenshots of the user’s activity. This type of spyware can also be used to access other accounts on the same computer, such as banking or social media accounts. One way to protect yourself against password theft spyware is to use a strong, unique password for each account.

Modem hijacker

A modem is a device that converts digital signals into analog signals for use on the telephone network. Modem hijacker spyware is designed to take control of a computer’s modem. It does this by establishing an unauthorized connection with the Internet and sending out data without the user’s knowledge or permission. Modem hijackers can also be used to send spam emails, install additional malicious software, and steal personal information.

Spyware can take many forms and have various functions, from stealing identities to sending back data about users’ activities for marketing purposes. It’s important to be aware of the different types of spyware out there so you can protect yourself against them. Knowing what kinds of spyware are out there, how they work, and how they can be prevented will help keep your computer safe.

How can spyware be installed on a computer?

As a general rule, spyware is installed on a computer without the user’s knowledge or permission. It can be included in freeware downloads, malicious emails, or fake software updates. The following are some top ways spyware can find its way onto your computer:

Web Downloads

Downloading software from the internet is a common way for spyware to be installed on a computer. By downloading free files, such as music or games, users may unknowingly expose their computers to malicious programs. Additionally, pirated software and cracked versions of legitimate products can also contain spyware.

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

Peer-to-peer file-sharing networks allow users to share large files with each other without using central servers. This type of network not only has potential security risks but can also be used by malicious actors to distribute spyware and other malicious programs. Always exercise caution when using peer-to-peer networks and avoid downloading anything that could potentially contain spyware.

Email Attachments

Malicious actors often use emails to spread spyware and other malicious programs. They will usually send out fake emails with infected attachments that, when opened, will install spyware onto the computer. Be sure to never open suspicious emails or download any attachments unless you know they are safe. Some common ways that they can lure unsuspecting users into opening them are by offering free gifts, discounts, or rewards.

App Install Packages

Installing applications from third-party sources can also be a way to unknowingly install spyware on your computer. Unofficial app stores often contain malicious applications that have been disguised as legitimate ones. Always verify that any software you install is legitimate, and do not download apps from unknown sources. Additionally, make sure to keep all of your software updated with the latest security patches.

Online Actions or Pop-Ups

Clicking on suspicious pop-ups or links can also lead to spyware being installed on your computer. Some malicious actors will use fake ads or surveys to entice users into clicking a link that leads to a malicious website or prompts the user to download something. In some cases, just visiting an infected website can install spyware onto your computer. Be sure to never click on any suspicious links or ads and only visit websites you trust.

Malicious Websites

Visiting malicious websites is another way spyware can be installed on a computer. Malicious actors will often create fake websites and phishing pages or compromise legitimate sites to spread spyware and other malicious programs. Always be sure to only visit trusted websites and avoid clicking any links that you think may be suspicious. Additionally, make sure your computer is updated with the latest security patches to protect against these threats.

Symptoms of a computer infected with spyware

When it comes to recognizing if a computer is infected with spyware, look out for the following symptoms:

Spam sent from your email address or social media

If you start receiving reports that spam or other suspicious emails are being sent from your email address, this may be a sign that spyware has infiltrated your computer. Spyware can often collect information from your computer and use it to send out malicious messages without your knowledge.

Sudden changes in browser settings

Another symptom of spyware is sudden changes to settings like the homepage, search engine, or favorites list in your web browser. This often happens when malicious programs hijack these settings on the browser and redirect them to a site they control.

Unexpected toolbars or plugins added to the web browser

If you notice any unexpected toolbars or plugins appearing on your web browser, this could be a sign that spyware has been installed. Malicious actors often use spyware to add additional toolbars or plugins onto your browser in order to collect information and track your web activity.

Inability to download antivirus programs or updates

If you are unable to download antivirus programs or updates, this could be a sign that your computer is infected with spyware. Spyware can often block attempts to download security software in order to protect itself from being detected and removed.

Unexpected images

Another symptom of spyware is the sudden appearance of unexpected images or pop-ups. This often happens when malicious programs are installed and used to display advertisements or other malicious content on your computer.

Random connections to unknown websites

If you experience your computer making random connections to unknown websites, this could be a sign of spyware. Spyware is often used to connect computers to malicious sites in order to steal information or download additional malicious programs.

Slow operation of the computer

The most obvious symptom of a computer infected with spyware is a noticeably slow operation. Spyware can often use up system resources in order to run itself, which can cause the computer to become slower and more sluggish.

Unexplained file or folder changes

There are also some instances when spyware can cause unexplained changes to files or folders on your computer. Spyware can be used to alter existing files in order to steal information or hide evidence of its presence.

Random sounds

There are some cases where spyware can be used to play random sounds. This usually happens when malicious programs are installed and set up to play audio ads or promotional messages on your computer.

Recognizing these symptoms is critical in detecting and removing any malicious spyware from your computer. If you suspect your computer has been infected, it’s important to take the necessary steps to remove the spyware and protect your data.  Check out our guide on how to protect yourself from spyware for more information!

Tips for preventing spyware infections

  • Be wary of free adware
  • Disable the autorun feature
  • Use a multilayered antivirus solution
  • Keep OS and other software up-to-date
  • Turn ON the popup blocker
  • Get Browser Sandbox protection
  • Never download attachments from unknown or unsolicited senders
  • Install and regularly update reputable antivirus software
  • Keep your operating system up to date with the latest security patches
  • Avoid clicking on unknown links or downloading suspicious files
  • Refrain from visiting websites that are known for hosting malicious content
  • Block pop-up windows from appearing on your web browser

Removing spyware from an infected computer

If your computer has been infected with spyware, it is important to take immediate steps to remove it. There are a few methods you can use in order to remove spyware from an infected computer:

Option 1: Manually remove spyware

  1. Disconnect the internet.
  2. Put your computer into Safe Mode by pressing the Windows key and R simultaneously on your keyboard to open Run. In the text box, enter “MSConfig” and then click OK to begin.
  3. The System Configuration window will open. Navigate to Boot Options, check the Safe Boot option and opt for Minimal.
  4. Click OK and press Restart.
  5. This will put your system in Safe Mode.
  6. Now, begin with deleting the ‘temporary’ files in your system. In the Search Box, type %temp% and start the search.
  7. Delete all the files that you see here.
  8. Empty your Recycle Bin.
  9. Go to the Control Panel and click on Program and Features. Look for any unfamiliar files you haven’t installed and uninstall them individually.
  10. Once done, go to MSConfig and uncheck the Safe Boot option.
  11. You are good to go.

Option 2: Use a spyware removal tool

Using a spyware removal tool is the most efficient way to remove malicious spyware from your computer. Download and install a reputable anti-spyware program on your system, run a full scan of it, and allow the software to detect and quarantine any suspicious files.  Once all threats have been removed, restart your computer, and you should be safe from further attacks.

The following are some popular anti-spyware programs:

  • Malwarebytes
  • Hitman Pro
  • Bitdefender
  • Kaspersky Total Security
  • McAfee Total Protection
  • Avast

Conclusion

Spyware in computer can be a major threat to your online security and privacy, so it is important to be aware of the different types of spyware and take steps to protect yourself. Be sure to follow the tips provided above in order to ensure your computer remains secure from malicious spyware attacks. If you ever suspect that your computer has been infected with spyware, remember to take immediate action to remove it as soon as possible. Good luck!

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Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.