What is spyware?

Spyware is the term used to describe the type of malware on the Mac, PC or mobile device that can silently collect data, copy content and/or track online activity. The various types of this spy software together can monitor everything, copy, collect inputs and recordings and forward the collected data to criminal subjects or their servers. There are also application examples in which the spyware is not only used remotely and unintentionally for stalking and phishing. This can also include monitoring children with remote access to their devices and their location or monitoring work computers from the executive floor.

What is spyware and how does this malware get on Mac, Windows PC or mobile? How to detect and remove the spy software? You can find answers to these questions and further information on the subject here.
What is spyware and how does this malware get on Mac, Windows PC or mobile? How to detect and remove the spy software? You can find answers to these questions and further information on the subject here.

How does spyware get on Mac, PC or mobile devices?

The tricks that scammers, stalkers and companies use to smuggle their spyware onto computers, smartphones and tablets are becoming more and more sophisticated and numerous. A popular method is B. manipulated websites. If you call up such a website, so-called "active content" comes into action. These load the unwanted guests onto the device without any action. However, certain settings that prevent automatic downloads or the execution of scripts can intervene preventively.

Spyware is often also delivered via freeware or Shareware into the computer, i.e. in programs that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. Then you can also from one Trojan or Trojan horse speak. Such a system pretends to have a certain function (i.e. the app that you want to download) and also or instead brings malware with it that attaches itself unnoticed. In addition to web downloads, this can also happen via e-mail attachments and websites linked in e-mails.

However, there is also spyware that requires physical access to the device to be infected. Here it may be necessary to unlock and actively upload software to the smartphone or tablet. But spyware can also be installed via a USB connection that is apparently provided for charging the battery if data is exchanged via it. For this reason, no USB functionality of the device should be activated or deactivated on unknown charging options. a protective device in place .

Not only criminal individuals use spyware

In addition to the areas of application already mentioned, which represent stalking by individuals and the monitoring of wards and employees, there are also others. So companies with dubious morals can also use spyware, e.g. B. to analyze the usage and web behavior of their customers. The aim is to use pop-ups, advertising banners and other advertising to generate targeted clicks on certain pages or sales in certain shops. Fake products and questionable services are usually advertised. So this is where the spyware can make use of Adware (advertising software) favor.

How do I recognize spyware on my computer?

Similar to other malware that acts in the background, spyware is often difficult to detect, since it is of course intended to remain hidden, like a real spy. However, the following points can be warning signs: 

  • The device is running slower than normal because the additional software is consuming resources
  • The Browser-Homepage changes unexpectedly due to ads or phishing being the target of malware
  • The internet connection is restored automatically, even if you keep deactivating it yourself
  • New icons appear in the menu bar (macOS) or taskbar (Windows) because e.g. B. Clicks on it should be provoked, which lead to further malware actions
  • Web searches redirect to another search engine that is dripping with ads or links to fake and/or phishing sites
  • error messages Apps, which previously ran smoothly, appear – e.g. B. to refer to fake support pages or to download another malware-infected "helper program".
  • The firewall or other protective device keeps reporting that certain (unknown) programs want to connect to the network
  • The device often freezes or even crashes because of the critical errors caused by the malware 
  • Lots of pop-ups open as a company uses the spyware for advertising
  • Virus, trojan, spyware or other warnings appear (as Scareware) and want to obtain the download of supposed antispyware software 
  • The system indicates that the webcam and/or microphone is being accessed even though one is not currently on a call, streaming or recording video

What to do with spyware? 

Spyware is a nuisance, and removing it manually can be tricky. Therefore, similar to other malware, an antivirus program is recommended. Many cybersecurity and system cleaning apps also offer spyware removal. However, many of the apps advertised as anti-spyware software mostly just mark the detected software as “Potentially Unwanted Software” or “PUS” (Potentially Unwanted Software). This is intended to avoid legal disputes with developers and studios whose apps are incorrectly identified as spy software.

Mac programs that can detect and remove spyware on macOS are:

What types of spyware are there? 

Spyware comes in many different types and sizes. Below I have listed a few examples, which roughly divide this malware into five categories:

  • Infostealer: The name really says it all here, since Infostealer or Info Stealer tap off personal data and information. As mentioned above, these can be passwords, e-mail addresses or personal documents, webcam recordings or microphone recordings. Infostealers like to exploit browser-related security flaws. 
  • Password Stealer: This type of spyware is very similar to info stealers. The difference is that it is specifically designed to steal passwords and other login credentials. 
  • Keylogger: The keystrokes are documented and recorded here. The hardware-based keyloggers record every keystroke in real time. The software-based keyloggers tend to record periodic screenshots. In this way, passwords (if they are not encrypted on the screen), credit card data, emails and browser histories, among other things, can be recorded. This will e.g. B. used by hackers, but also by companies that monitor their employees.
  • Banking Trojan: As the name suggests, this involves data that is stored or processed in online banking systems. They are often camouflaged as recognized software. They are aimed at banks, broker systems, financial service providers, etc. The aim is to manipulate transactions for the benefit of the infiltrating people.
  • Modem hijacker: This is one of the oldest types of spyware, but has fallen out of favor since the shift from dial-up modems to broadband routers for long-distance transmission. The main effects are pop-ups that ask users to click on them. This initiates an unnoticed download of a file that takes control of the dialer modem. 

Summary on the subject of spyware / spy software

Spyware is a type of malware that can infect your computer, mobile device or other technology from different sources and for different purposes. Spy software can be used by companies for dubious and illegal advertising, by hackers for stealing login data or personal information, as well as in the form of stalkerware used to track individuals. They can be recognized by a possible malfunction of the end device or by malware scanners. This also allows the malware to be removed in most cases. Precautions are: Software load only from official sites, do not open links and attachments from unknown e-mail addresses and otherwise use the net with open eyes.

Sources: 1, 2

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