Real Guide: How to Prevent Spyware
The name “spyware” may paint a picture of something straight out of a James Bond movie, used by intelligence officers to gather information about the enemy. However, the reality of the situation may be somewhat less glamorous than in the world of Hollywood.
Simply put, spyware is any unwanted software that gets into your device and sabotages your use of the internet, along with gaining access to your data. The main function of spyware is to collect as much of your data as possible, which is subsequently sold to advertisers or other third-party users who may have malicious intentions.
Since spyware is one of the most common vulnerabilities in the world of cybersecurity, we’ve decided to tell you how to prevent spyware and protect your data.
Here is our previous guide on data protection in apps and social networks.
What is spyware?
Spyware is a computer program that penetrates the operating system and can pull part of the system resources to itself. For example, it may monitor which sites you visit, annoy you with unnecessary advertisements, or generate traffic for its creator’s site. According to some estimates, more than 80% of personal computers are infected with various spyware applications.
Some people confuse spyware with viruses. A computer virus is a self-propagating code that penetrates from an infected computer to all other systems connected to it. Its malicious content can significantly damage individual files or even the operating system as a whole.
You can read more about viruses here.
Spyware, on the other hand, is not usually designed to be destructive. Spyware is understood as any program that secretly penetrates the computer and undesirably changes the usual conditions of user interaction with the system, working in the background. The resulting damage is rather a byproduct of the activities of the spyware application, while its main purpose is to show users ads and force the web browser to display links to certain sites in search results.
At the moment, most spyware works only on Windows. The most famous of them are Trymedia, Nuvens, Estalive, Hotbar, and New.Net.Domain.Plugin.
Types of spyware
Spyware is not all the same. They are usually distinguished into several types:
- The keylogger spy program. This is a spy program that is able to track user actions using the keyboard. For example, you typed a word in the browser search or other text field, and the spy has already tracked and recorded everything. That is, any typed username or password will be known to attackers.
- Mail service spyware programs. In this case, the virus sends spam to your email, and thus, the attacker has a chance to find out important data if you accidentally click on a “dangerous link.”
- Screen spyware. These programs store data using a camera that is built into your computer. You may not even suspect that an outsider behind another computer screen receives certain information from you thanks to such a program.
These are not all the types of spyware. We’ve listed only the most basic ones that users constantly encounter.
Read our checklist in necessary security measures on the internet.
How does spyware get into a computer?
Spyware applications usually get into the system with the user’s assistance — just click some button in a pop-up window or install new software or add-on to the web browser. To persuade the user to install a spyware program, all sorts of tricks are used, from supposed system warnings to a fake “Cancel” button which, when clicked, actually downloads and installs the spyware. The most typical ways such software penetrates your computer are described below.
#1 Installing software “with load”
Some applications, especially clients for peer-to-peer networks, install spyware during the standard installation procedure. However, if you do not read the list of installed components more carefully, you may not notice that a lot of unnecessary garbage was installed in addition to the file-sharing client. This is especially true for supposedly “free” applications that are served as an alternative to commercial software.
#2 Passing installation
It happens that websites or pop-ups automatically try to download and install spyware on your computer. The only warning about this pops up in the form of a standard dialog box with the application’s name asking whether it can be installed. And if the security settings are at a low level, even this does not happen.
#3 Extensions to web browsers
Add-ons to web browsers (toolbars, animated indicators, additional search windows) are designed to expand their functionality and often do so. But in addition, they can install spyware on the computer. And sometimes, the add-ons themselves are nothing more than disguised spyware. The most tenacious of them are called “browser hijackers” and they hide in the system so deep that it can be very difficult to delete them.
#4 Pseudo-antispyware software
Such spyware applications are among the most unpleasant. Masquerading as a means of finding and removing spyware, they assure the user that their computer is crystal clear while secretly installing additional spyware.
How to prevent spyware
Due to the severity of spyware and the harm it can do to your system and personal information, it is strongly recommended that you take the following measures to prevent spyware from bypassing your system:
- 1. Avoid opening unknown emails.
One of the most important steps you can take to prevent spyware is opening or responding to emails from an unknown sender.
If you receive an email that seems questionable, make sure that you report it as spam so that you don’t receive such emails in the future.
Read more about email scams here.
- 2. Avoid visiting unreliable sites.
To prevent spyware from infiltrating through your downloads, try to stay away from untrusted websites as much as possible.
In this regard, sites not indexed by popular search engines such as Google and Bing should be considered restricted.
- 3. Don’t click on pop-up ads.
A simple step that you can take to ensure that your data will not be tracked is not to click on pop-ups with ads that may appear during the browsing session.
A tell-tale sign confirming that spyware has affected your device is if the number of pop-ups in your browser suddenly increases. In such cases, do not let curiosity get the better of you and do not click on pop-ups, no matter what.
- 4. Go through the license agreements.
After downloading an application or software, most of us blindly scroll through lengthy user license agreements without even thinking.
However, you should read the agreements you have signed, as they may contain relevant information about “information collection,” which is another way to say invasion of privacy.
- 5. Download the antivirus software.
The basic rule of ensuring the security of your device, be it a laptop or a mobile phone, is to install antivirus software that provides reliable protection and covers all aspects of security.
When searching for antivirus software, make sure you are looking for features mainly designed for spyware, with anti-keylogger programs that help detect keystrokes.
- 6. Use proven and reliable services and apps.
To prevent any online threat, you should always stay in touch with new technologies and use only trusted solutions for your internet experience. For instance, the Utopia P2P ecosystem is a secure, anonymous, and decentralized platform that protects all its users with multi-level encryption. It is a fully-fledged space with everything you need for messaging, browsing, file sharing, mining, gaming, etc. – all in one place.
Learn more about Utopia P2P and compare it with other security tools.
In the digital world, dangers are an unavoidable part of internet reality and can lie in wait for you at every step. Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to protect yourself from them. Maintain a reasonable balance between using antivirus tools and observing basic precautions. You will be able to protect every computer you use from spyware attacks and the attackers’ schemes behind them.