What is spyware

S ocial engineering remains the number one way to spread malware infections, maintains Jon Amato, a senior director analyst in the Atlanta offices of research and advisory company Gartner. Many spyware infections can be averted by users, maintains Tanner Johnson, a senior analyst with IHS Markit, a London-based research, analysis and advisory firm. They open an attachment they shouldn't. They engage in poor cybersecurity practices.

Tracking Software

Care should also be taken when downloading files. Files should only be downloaded from trusted sites. If you have a good antivirus or antimalware program, it will, in many cases, flag downloads that are infected. Make sure your security software comes from a reputable vendor. Malware authors have been known to bury their wares in bogus antivirus apps.

Using mobile device management MDM software that limits the download to approved apps only is also a good option. In addition, although it's unlikely that someone is going to physically access your phone to install spyware on it, always create a lock codefor your phone that only you know. This is a requirement in many corporate environments. Even if you're careful about the links you click, the attachments you open, and the files you download, you still may be targeted by drive-by infections.

What is spyware? And how to remove it

Since drive-by attacks often depend on browser vulnerabilities to infect their victims, the risk of drive-by infections can be reduced by keeping your browser version up to date. Since spyware is frequently connected to pop-up windows and advertising, there are several steps you can take address those malware conduits. Both the Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome have built-in pop-up window blockers. They can be configured to block all pop-up windows or alert you when a website wants to launch a pop-up so you can decide whether you want to see it. You can also allow pop-ups automatically from trusted sites.

Malvertising threats can be addressed by installing an ad-blocker in your browser, if it doesn't already have that feature. AdBlock Plus is one of the most popular programs for blocking ads. Anti-tracking software, like Ghostery, can also be a valuable browser addition to reduce the risk of spyware infections. In a corporate environment, a good endpoint protection solution will detect most adware. What likely to be most effective, though, is a strong security awareness program that teaches employees how to avoid adware and other types of malware infections.

If your computer appears unusually sluggish or crashes a lot, your browser becomes overpopulated with pop-up windows, or you begin to observe suspicious hard drive activity, your efforts to avoid spyware might have failed. That means you'll need to remove the infection. Removing any kind of malware manually is difficult, but it can be even more so with spyware.

The malware is designed to be clandestine.

That means it will hide telltale signs of its presence, like icons. Checking system resources can be a dead end, too.


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Spyware authors often name their files to mimic the names of real system files to hide their identity. A number of programs—some of them free—can detect and remove spyware.

What is spyware?

In addition, Actiance Security Labs maintains Spyware Guide , which lists thousands of spyware programs with links to tools for removing them from systems. Spyware on smartphones can cause symptoms similar to computers, such as frequent system crashes and performance hits, but there are other signs, too. For example, the phone may start turning itself off and not responding immediately when you try to turn it back on. Other signs include faster battery depletion than normal, surges in data usage and unusual text messages in your inbox.

Another tipoff is modifications to your phone that allow it to download apps outside Google's and Apple's app stores. In Android, that's typically done by changing a phone's security settings to allow downloads from unknown sources. In iOS, it's sometimes done by planting on a phone an app called Cydia, which is used to download software on a jailbroken iPhone. If you suspect you have spyware on your phone, you can back up your data and reset it to its factory settings.

Spyware Definition

You'll also want to make sure you're running the latest version of its operating system. As with computers, there are also security programs that can be used to scan a phone for spyware and remove it, although that solution may not be effective in every case. For Android phones, there's also a "nuclear option" called dr. It will totally and permanently wipe everything on your phone—photos, apps, contacts, messages, call logs and all private data.

It's not to be used lightly. John Mello writes on technology and cyber security for a number of online publications and is former managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and Boston Phoenix.


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Is spyware spying on you? What can you do about it?

This was last updated in January Related Terms computer worm A computer worm is a type of malicious software program whose primary function is to infect other computers while remaining Login Forgot your password? Forgot your password? No problem!

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What is spyware

Your password has been sent to:. Please create a username to comment. Mostly used for the purposes such as; tracking and storing internet users' movements on the web; serving up pop-up ads to internet users that monitors a user's computing,can result in slow Internet connection speeds, un-authorized changes in browser settings, or changes to software settings. What methods have been the most successful for spyware detection and mitigation in your organization? Powered by:. Search Cloud Security Defining and evaluating SOC as a service As cloud use increases, many enterprises outsource some security operations center functions.

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