What is Spyware?

With today’s massive shift to remote work, organizations have to be acutely aware of the new and ever-evolving threat landscape that poses new risks and vulnerabilities to the security of an organization’s sensitive information. Many organizations may be unaware, but one of the primary vulnerabilities malicious entities target to gain access to an organization is the organization’s own employees. 

One of the unspoken aspects of information security today, is that it’s often much more challenging for malicious users to breach a secure IT environment in comparison to tricking an employee into inadvertently downloading a piece of malicious software that will provide the same access to the targeted IT environment. And one of the primary threat vectors malicious entities use to exploit users and organizations is known as Spyware. Spyware is a type of malicious software that aims to steal sensitive information by stealthily siphoning off sensitive information unbeknownst to the employee once gaining access to their machine. Often Spyware programs can be inadvertently installed on a computer by posing as a legitimate application that employees install on their own accord. To achieve this, spyware software may pose as a legitimate software by offering a free service via a web page pop-up, or email attachment offer. Here, a user may download and install this seemingly benign software without knowing in the background that this Spyware is secretly monitoring that user’s computer usage via keyloggers or keystrokes monitoring and other monitoring strategies to steal credit card information, perform identity theft and steal other sensitive information pertaining to the employee or organization that employee is affiliated with. 

How Does Spyware Differ From Malware

It’s important to note how Spyware compares to Malware and other types of malicious software. Malware – which gets its name from combining the words malicious software – is an umbrella term that refers to any malicious software that aims to exploit either for financial gain or to disrupt critical business processes. Other common types of malware include phishing attacks, ransomware, and trojans.

To achieve this goal of infecting systems, malicious entities are coming up with new strategies everyday – or subtypes of malware – to breach and exploit organizations and users. To combat this ever-evolving threat, cybersecurity policies and security software are constantly improving to mitigate the effectiveness of these exploits.

Types of Spyware

To the surprise of many organizations, there are many forms of spyware that organizations and employees need to be aware of. Each of these subtypes of spyware pose unique challenges and risks to organizations and employees alike and each require unique strategies to identify and remove these threat vectors.

Adware

One of the primary types of spyware is known as Adware. Adware presents itself as legitimate software or freeware, while malicious software is hidden in the install of seemingly benign software. One of the primary ways adware is presented is via a pop-up ad on a malicious website. This often is a result of poor browsing habits. By limiting web browsing to legitimate verified companies, a user can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to an Adware attack. 

Keyloggers

One of the more prominent subtypes of spyware is keyloggers. With keyloggers, malicious entities use various strategies as mentioned above to get the malicious software installed on the target system and once installed, steal sensitive data by monitoring any keyboard use. Here, keyloggers can capture sensitive information such as personally identifiable information, credit card numbers, valuable intellectual property, or other forms of sensitive information. Once the sensitive information has been captured, malicious users may hold that data ransome, or sell it on the dark web for profit. 

Mobile Device Exploits

Over the past decade, mobile devices have become a major target for malicious entities. Often, mobile devices store much of the same sensitive information as held on a computer and can be infected in a much easier manner. Whether it’s Android or the Apple Iphone operating system IoS, many mobile phone users are inadvertently falling victim to spyware infections from these more modernized spyware tactics. Often, mobile phone users will fall prey to these exploiters by downloading unverified applications that aren’t supported by an app store. These applications are often promoted via unsolicited text messages or web browsing to unscrupulous web pages. 

How To Remove Spyware

With all of the major risks associated with the various subtypes of Spyware, the question arises in how to effectively remove spyware from these systems and how to ensure employees and organizations are properly protected from falling victim to future attacks. First off, one of the most valuable spyware removal strategies is to implement an effective antivirus or anti-spyware solution on all endpoints including workstations, servers and mobiles devices. These antivirus solutions often provide system monitors to actually identify and remove spyware threats in real-time. 

Furthermore, organizations should highly consider building security policies that outline safe and acceptable online activities. This can define acceptable search engine usage, legitimate programs that are acceptable for install, and supported web browsers to limit the likelihood that employees encounter spyware or other types of malware. By implementing effective security policies and hardening security settings, organizations can be certain to enhance the overall security of their organization and limit the threat of these malicious attacks.