What is spyware?

Spyware is a type of malware that steals data from your device. It can log what you type, take screen­shots, and even use your device’s camera. Read below to learn more about what spy­ware is and how to protect yourself.

What does spy­ware do?

Spy­ware infects your device and spies on what you do. It then passes the information to its masters. While many programs collect information about you, spy­ware does so with­out your consent and know­ledge. And typically for malicious reasons. Some of the most common types of data spy­ware steals are:

  • Credit card information
  • Pass­words and user­names
  • Banking credentials
  • Information on what you do online

Criminals can use this information for account take­over and identity theft. Additionally, governments, advertisers and criminals can use spy­ware for surveillance. It can also be used to identify potential targets for further attacks.

Spy­ware is malicious soft­ware used to monitor you

In the first half of 2020, 18 out of the 20 most common malware detected by F‑Secure were able to steal data. And many of them did more than that. Spy­ware often slows down your system and connection. It can also alter your device’s security settings and down­load more malware. You might see more ads and pop-ups on your device and browser. Constant pop-up ads and slowing down of the device are signs that your computer or phone may be infected with malicious spy­ware.

Once a spy­ware program is in, it can spy on you and steal your data in various ways. One way to do this is with a key­logger. Key­loggers track every­thing you write on your computer’s key­board. By collecting a user’s key­strokes, a key­logger can easily steal pass­words, bank account numbers and other valuable information. Although key­loggers are not illegal by design, they can be used as spy­ware to steal your valuable information. Spy­ware soft­ware can also save what you type on your mobile device.

How does your device get infected?

The most common way to get infected with malware is through email attachments and links. Quite often spy­ware is a Trojan and gets on your device when you install another program. You should be especially wary of free soft­ware that can be down­loaded online at no cost. In reality, these seemingly free programs can come at the price of malicious soft­ware designed to monitor you and collect sensitive data with­out your consent.

Spy­ware can also utilize soft­ware vulnerabilities, especially in browsers to get in. If you have spy­ware on your device, it’s likely there’s other malware too. How­ever, unlike a virus or a computer worm, spy­ware programs do not try to spread from one device to another. Rather, spy­ware aims to get the user to install it with­out them knowing.

Can mobile devices be infected with a spy­ware program?

Although some might think that their mobile devices are safe from malicious soft­ware, this sadly is not the case. Spy­ware is not an exception as mobile devices can be infected with spy­ware as well. Text messages, for example, can be used to infect your smart­phone with a malicious spy­ware program.

One way a spy­ware program may get to your device is by exploiting the device’s Blue­tooth connection. A good way to avoid mobile spy­ware is by not down­loading third-party soft­ware and applications as these can come with unwanted malicious soft­ware. Use your device’s official app store, such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store, instead. Make sure to also avoid suspicious email attachments, just like on your computer.

Spy­ware example: Pegasus (NSO Group)

The Pegasus spy­ware is a well-known spy­ware program by the NSO Group, a technology company based in Israel. The Pegasus spy­ware targets mobile devices running both on the iOS and Android operating systems. It has infected devices globally since its development in 2011.

The Pegasus spy­ware gained much notoriety and attention in global media when it was discovered in the phone of Ahmed Mansoor, an Arab blogger and activist. The features of the Pegasus spy­ware have included taking screen­shots, saving what you type on the device and listening to phone calls. On top of that, the program is capable of removing itself from the device when discovered.

5 anti-spy­ware tips

Like any other malware, you don’t want spy­ware on your device. Below are 5 spy­ware protection tips that help you stay safe.

1. Use anti­virus soft­ware

Anti­virus is also anti-spy­ware soft­ware. It’s your first and fore­most spy­ware protection. Anti­virus blocks malware from infecting your device and carries out automatic spy­ware removal. Keep also your fire­walls on to stay protected against spy­ware.

2. Avoid opening links and attachments

The most common distribution methods for malware are attachments and links sent in emails and SMS messages. Only down­load and open files and links you trust.

3. Don’t down­load shady apps and programs

Spy­ware often comes hidden within another app. Only down­load and open files and apps you trust. Don’t down­load any­thing with­out an active anti­virus. This applies both to mobile devices and desktop computers.

4. Keep your soft­ware and operating systems updated

Spy­ware soft­ware often takes advantage of security issues within apps, browsers, and operating systems. These issues are regularly fixed with updates. Enable automatic updates on your computer and phone to be safe.

5. Don’t grant apps unnecessary device permissions

Many apps collect information about you with your permission. Consider which apps need to get access to your contacts, micro­phone, location, etc. Don’t allow apps to collect information with­out a good reason. You can edit already granted permissions from your phone’s privacy settings.

F-Secure — we see what you don’t

Spy­ware tries to stay hidden. F‑Secure TOTAL sees the danger even when you don’t and keeps you safe. TOTAL includes award-winning protection against spy­ware, viruses, ransom­ware, known phishing web­sites, and many other online threats. It also includes an unlimited VPN and a handy pass­word manager.

Try it for free for 30 days, with no credit card required.

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