Most Common Types of Spyware and how to avoid them

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Spyware refers to malicious software designed to gather information or monitor activities on a computer or device without the user’s knowledge or consent. Some common types of spyware include keyloggers, adware, Trojan spyware, browser hijackers, and system monitors.

To avoid them, it is important to use reputable antivirus and anti-malware software, keep your operating system and applications up to date, be cautious when downloading and installing software from unknown sources, and regularly scan your system for any signs of spyware. Additionally, practising safe browsing habits, such as avoiding clicking on suspicious links or ads, can help reduce the risk of encountering spyware.

What are the different types of spyware attacks?

A spyware attack refers to a malicious activity where spyware, a type of malware, is used to infiltrate a system and covertly gather sensitive information or monitor user activities without their knowledge or consent. Spyware is designed to collect various types of data, including credentials such as usernames, passwords, banking information, and other personal or confidential data.

Here are some common types of spyware and general steps to avoid them:

Keyloggers:

Keylogger is a malicious spyware software that records and monitors keystrokes on a computer or device. They are designed to capture sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, credit card details, and other confidential data.

They record keystrokes on a device, allowing attackers to capture private information. To avoid keyloggers, use reputable antivirus software with real-time protection and keep it up to date. Be cautious while downloading files or clicking on suspicious links.

Real-life Incident: Sony Pictures Entertainment Hack

In 2014, Sony Pictures suffered a major breach where keyloggers were used to steal employee login credentials and access sensitive data, resulting in leaked emails, unreleased films, and other confidential information being made public.

Adware:

Adware refers to unwanted software that displays advertisements on a user’s device. It often collects information about the user’s browsing habits and may redirect the user to malicious websites. Adware is typically bundled with free software or downloaded unknowingly by the user.

To avoid adware, be cautious while installing software and pay attention to bundled offers during the installation process. Use ad-blocking extensions or tools to minimise exposure to intrusive ads.

Real-life Incident Lenovo hack:
In 2015, it was discovered that certain Lenovo laptops were shipped with Superfish adware pre-installed, compromising users’ security and exposing them to potential vulnerabilities.

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Trojans:

Trojans, short for Trojan horses, are deceptive software programs that appear harmless or legitimate but actually contain malicious code. They trick users into downloading or installing them, allowing attackers to gain unauthorised access to the user’s device or steal sensitive data.

They disguise themselves as legitimate software and can perform various malicious activities, including spying on user activities. Avoid downloading software or files from untrusted sources. Regularly update your operating system, software, and antivirus programs to patch vulnerabilities that trojans may exploit.

Real-life Incident – JPMorgan Chase:

In 2014, JPMorgan Chase experienced a significant breach caused by the Zeus Trojan. The attack compromised the personal information of over 76 million households and 7 million small businesses.

Also Read: How Can You Avoid Downloading Malicious Codes?

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Browser hijackers:

Browser hijackers are types of spyware that modify the settings of a user’s web browser without their consent. They may change the default search engine, homepage, or new tab page and redirect search queries to unwanted or malicious websites. Browser hijackers often come bundled with freeware or shareware downloads.

They modify browser settings and display unwanted ads. Be cautious while installing browser extensions or plugins, and only download from trusted sources. Regularly review and remove unfamiliar or suspicious extensions from your browser.

Real-life Incident – Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves):

Ask.com faced criticism for distributing a browser toolbar that acted as a browser hijacker, modifying search settings and redirecting search queries to its search engine.

Mobile spyware:

Mobile spyware is a form of spyware program specifically designed for mobile devices, smartphones and tablets. It can monitor and record various activities on the device, such as calls, messages, browsing history, GPS location, and other personal data. Mobile spyware is typically installed by tricking the user into downloading a malicious app.

Avoid downloading apps from unofficial app stores. Keep your device’s operating system and apps up to date, as updates often include security patches.

Real-life Incident – NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware:

The Pegasus spyware developed by NSO Group has been associated with several high-profile incidents, targeting individuals, activists, journalists, and government officials globally.

Email and messaging spyware:

Email and messaging spyware refers to spyware that is distributed through malicious email attachments or links within messages. Once activated, it can monitor email communications, capture sensitive information, or gain unauthorised access to the user’s device or accounts.

Spyware may be distributed through malicious email attachments or links within messages. Exercise caution when opening email attachments or clicking on links, especially if they are unexpected, difficult to detect or come from unknown senders.

Real-life Incident – Democratic National Committee (DNC) Hack:

In 2016, the DNC experienced a breach where email accounts were compromised, and sensitive information was exposed. The breach was attributed to email phishing and spear-phishing techniques.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks:

Peer-to-peer file-sharing networks are platforms where users can share files directly with each other. However, they can also be a source of spyware-infected files. Spyware distributed through P2P networks can infect a user’s device when they download and open infected files.

P2P networks can be a form of spyware-infected files. Be cautious while downloading files from such networks and use reputable file-sharing platforms. Scan downloaded files with antivirus software.

Real-life Incident – The BitTorrent protocol:

This is commonly used in various P2P file-sharing applications and has been associated with the distribution of copyrighted content, leading to legal actions against individuals and organisations involved in sharing copyrighted material.

Phishing attacks:

Phishing attacks are attempts to deceive users into revealing sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, or financial details. Attackers often send fraudulent emails or create fake websites that mimic legitimate ones, tricking users into providing their confidential information.

Be sceptical of unsolicited emails asking for personal information or containing suspicious links. Verify the legitimacy of websites by checking their security certificates and URLs.

Real-life example – The PayPal phishing attack:

Here, attackers send fraudulent emails pretending to be from PayPal, requesting users to provide their login credentials and other personal information. This information is then used for unauthorised access or financial fraud.

In general, practising good cybersecurity habits will help detect spyware threats. This includes keeping your devices and software up to date, using strong and unique passwords, being cautious when downloading or clicking on links, and using reputable security software to scan for and remove spyware threats.


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Additional Real-life spyware infected malicious software examples

  1. Equifax data breach: In 2017, Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies, experienced a data breach that exposed the sensitive personal information of approximately 147 million individuals. The breach was caused by a vulnerability in a web application, which allowed attackers to gain access to Equifax’s systems and steal names, social security numbers, birth dates, and other sensitive data.
  2. Rural Shire of Serpentine network compromise: According to the Australian Cyber Threat Report 2022-2023, The Rural Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale, located near Perth, experienced a network compromise in early 2023. The incident occurred when a malicious cyber actor exploited a vulnerability in a public-facing system, specifically the Shire’s remote work server.
  3. Target data breach: In 2013, the retail giant Target experienced a massive data breach that affected millions of customers. The breach occurred through a malware-infected point-of-sale system. Attackers gained unauthorised access to Target’s network and stole credit card information and personal data of customers. This incident had significant financial and reputational consequences for Target.

The 2023 report by the Australian Signals Directorate shows that Australia’s more populous states, such as Queensland and Victoria, have higher rates of cybercrime relative to their populations. However, victims in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory experienced the highest average reported losses, with approximately $32,000 and $29,000 per cybercrime report, respectively.

These examples demonstrate the potential impact of spyware-infected malicious software. They highlight the importance for organisations to prioritise Cybersecurity measures and Managed Security Services to mitigate the risk of such incidents and protect their customers’ data and trust. 

How to remove spyware infection from the system?

To remove a spyware infection from your system, follow these steps:

  1. Identify and understand the type of malware: Determine the specific spyware and malware that has infected your system. This knowledge will help you find the appropriate removal method.
  2. Start in Safe Mode: Restart your computer and boot into Safe Mode. This will load a minimal set of drivers and processes, making it easier to detect and remove spyware.
  3. Install reputable spyware removal software: Download and install reliable anti-malware or anti-spyware software from a trusted source. Ensure that the software is up to date with the latest malware definitions.
  4. Run a full system scan: Perform a thorough scan of your system using the installed spyware removal software. This scan will detect and remove any spyware or malware present on your computer.
  5. Remove identified spyware: Once the scan is complete, review the scan results and follow the instructions provided by the software to remove the identified spyware or malware.
  6. Take measures for spyware prevention: Implement preventive measures to avoid future infections. These include:a. Regularly update your operating system and all installed software to patch security vulnerabilities.b. Use a reputable antivirus and anti-spyware solution and keep it up to date.c. Exercise caution when downloading and installing software or clicking on links from unknown or untrusted sources.

    d. Be wary of email attachments or links in suspicious emails, as they can be a common source of spyware infections.

    e. Regularly back up your important files and data to minimise the impact of a potential spyware infection.

  7. Restore system files (if necessary): If critical system files have been affected by spyware, you may need to restore them from a backup or use system restoration tools provided by your operating system.

By leveraging our expertise and solutions, you can fortify your cybersecurity posture, mitigate risks, prevent spyware and ensure the protection of customer data and trust. Stay ahead of cyber threats in your industry with 360 Security Solution, our complete cybersecurity solution tailored to your business needs.

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