What is spyware, and why is it dangerous?

What is spyware, and why is it dangerous?

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Spyware refers to any kind of malicious software designed to gather data about victims. While that’s a fairly loose definition, and there’s a lot of crossover with other forms of malware, it’s not something you want to have anywhere near your business network.

Spyware ranges in severity from a relatively minor intrusion on privacy to state and corporate espionage. Keep in mind that not all spyware is connected to illegal activity, but it’s still not something you want to install. Some trusted applications use tracking tools, and the process they use to get onto your computer in the first place might not be as transparent as they should be according to privacy regulations.

The most dangerous spyware typically arrives in the form of email attachments or in infected executable files sent via instant messaging, social media, or file sharing programs. Meanwhile, the less severe forms of spyware, such as that used for unscrupulous advertising, often come attached to otherwise legitimate apps as “optional” extras that are installed by default. Some spyware of this nature may even come preinstalled on new computers, particularly those aimed toward the consumer market.

Here’s what happens when spyware sits in your computer systems:

    1. Disruptions to normal operations

Even in the best-case scenario, spyware is disruptive and obtrusive. If you’ve ever purchased a new computer only to find that it’s not nearly as quick to boot up and use as you expected, there’s a good chance it’s laced with so-called bloatware. Bloatware includes any kind of junk software, such as useless trial programs and other apps, any of which might contain tracking features that can bog down the system.

Spyware is a nuisance at best and a serious danger at worst. All spyware works by collecting data about the user’s computer and sending it over the internet, whether to an advertiser or a cybercriminal. These activities consume bandwidth and processing power, sometimes to the point of slowing your computer and internet connection to a crawl. If a computer is unusually slow, there’s a good chance it’s infected with junk software, including spyware.

    1. Data breaches and identity theft

Spyware also introduces a high risk of a data breach and identity theft. The most dangerous spyware might collect confidential information, such as payment details and login credentials. These work by monitoring keyboard strokes, and it usually ends up on a computer via a malicious file attachment or by an employee responding to a phishing scam.

Data breaches can cause enormous losses for any company, including long-term reputational damage and compliance failures. Identity theft is another common risk, which involves theft of personally identifiable information like payment or health insurance details. Attackers use this to misappropriate the identities of compromised businesses and individuals or sell the records on the dark web.

    1. Spreading additional malware

Malware comes in many different forms, and spyware is just one of them. Unlike viruses, for example, spyware does not self-replicate and embed itself into other files and programs on your device. However, that doesn’t make it any less serious. Spyware is often used to spread other types of malware.

Attackers may use spyware to gather information about targets for social engineering scams. By using spyware to track their online activities, they can build a detailed profile about their would-be victims, which helps them come across as much more convincing in their efforts to manipulate someone. Other types of spyware may simply provide remote access and control, allowing more sophisticated hackers to upload far more dangerous malware payloads.

Online Computers provides real-time protection against spyware and other types of malware to help you keep your operations running smoothly and safely. Get in touch today to talk about your technology needs.

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