The term "spyware" was coined in the middle of 1990. However, the software existed much before this period. In the beginning, developers added a component to their programs as spyware for tracking its usage. They would collect their potential advertisers with the statistics collected and utilize them for detecting any unlicensed use of the software program. However, as time passed, about 90% of computer users worldwide have some spyware infecting their computer, installed without their permission.
Definition of Spyware Today
Spyware is malicious software thatcyber-criminals install on the computer systems of companies and individuals without their knowledge.It secretly collects sensitive dataon these users’ online activities and transmits it back to the criminals via the Internet. This information can be in the form of the users’ login credentials, online financial details, downloads, and browsing habits.
The recent Pegasus spyware created by the Israeli cyber arms group NSO case in India is a modern-day example of a spyware attack.
What Do Cyber criminals Do?
The cyber-criminals use this dataobtained with the spywareto:
- Commit identity thefts using their victims’ personal data,
- Take control of their victims’ computer systems to launch a denial-of-service attack,
- Steal and use their victims’ sensitive financial information to make random online purchases, and
- Use their victims’ computers to mine cryptocurrencies to finance their nefarious activities.
Types of Spyware
The spyware which cyber-criminals infiltrate the computers systems of individuals and corporations generally fall into the following broad categories:
This is common spyware which cyber-criminalsimpersonating online advertisers use to lure their victims. It displays blinking pop-up window advertisements or spam mailwhenever companies and individuals perform online tasks on their computers.The malicious software application then gathers information on the Internet surfing habits of these users and thewebsites they browse.
Keyboard logger is another type of spyware that cyber-criminals like hackers use to covertly access their victims' computer systems. They specifically design this malware to steal the sensitive information of companies and individuals.The software applicationidentifies the actual keystrokes these online users type of opening and using their computers.This enables the criminals to know their victims’ personal identification number (PIN), password, credit card, andonline banking details. They can then use this data to commit random acts of online identity theft and Internet fraud.
This spyware attaches itself to the phone lines which companies and private individuals use to access their Internet connections. When these online users use their computers to browse and click on elicit websites, the software secretly downloads a file. The file surreptitiously changes the users’ local phone line connection to an international one charging premium rates.This enables cyber-criminals to access the Internet using victims’ phones from different countries. As a result, enterprises and individuals find a large number of unauthorized calls on their phone bills.
This software application affects the access companies, and individuals have to their Internet connection by resetting the browser’s homepage. The objective is to re-direct these online users to undesirable websites via advertising spam. Cyber-criminals even create malicious software applications to function as data miners to collect information on their victims' browsing activities. They then sell the data to online advertisers willing to pay a lucrative sum of money for it.
These are typical spyware that cyber-criminals create to look like legitimate software applications. They sell the programs to innocent individuals and businesses who install them in their computer systems. They can then use the software to secretly collect sensitive information and encrypt certain files to extort a ransom. Once the Trojan horse spyware infiltrates the victims’ computers, it allows criminals to acquire backdoor control over the IT infrastructure.
Once this spyware accesses the computer systems of Internet users, it secretly records their online activities. These include capturing keystrokes, email messages, chat-room dialogs, video-conferencing calls, and websites the users browse on the Internet. The software applications even scan the programs which run in the background to identify vulnerabilities in the computer systems. The application then sends this data to cyber-criminals who exploit it for their purposes.
Many online companies allow users to browse through their free software applications and social media networking sites. However, they need to agree on allowing the corporations to use spyware to monitor their access to the platforms. This implies that these prospective customers voluntarily trade some of their privacy privileges to use the systems. The enterprises can then display certain targeted advertisements whenever they access the software applications or social media sites.
How do Most Spyware Applications Work?
Specialists from esteemed companies in database management, consulting, and administration, RemoteDBA.com state cyber-criminals can use spyware to gain access to computer systems of individuals and businesses in many ways. These malicious software applications generally contain suspicious pop-up advertisements, email attachments, download, or pirated movies. Once the applications infiltrate the computers, they perform the following actions:
- Run a filegeneratingpop-up advertisements toaffect the Internetbrowser’suseability adversely,
- Alter the firewall settings to allow other malicious software applications to access the computers,
- Record the victims’ keystrokes, clicks, and Internet searches to access their sensitive personal data,
- Re-direct the victims’ Internet searches in a manner that renders their search engines useless, and
- Identify and block attempts by the victims' computer systems to remove other malicious software.
Spyware programs can compromise the sensitive information companies, and individuals keep on their computer systems. However, they can take the following measures to prevent these malicious software applications from the gain access to their computers:
- Install the latest spyware scanner to detect and remove suspicious software from incoming traffic,
- Adjust their computers’ Internet browser’s security settings and delete cookies frequently,
- Avoid clicks on suspicious pop-up advertisements, email attachments or downloads,
- Read the instructions before installing legitimate software applications on their computers, and
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) as an additional security layer when browsing the Internet.
Businesses should also beware of spyware attacks and hire skilled and experienced IT specialists to ensure their systems are safe and free from cyber-criminals. The same holds for both large and small companies as they can be victims of hackers with malicious intent too.