Spyware is a type of malware which monitors a person's system and steal user's sensitive information. While monitoring the system, the software will amass a plethora of information about the system and its users and then send them to another system with or without the users' consent. Because of this, it is typically used by nefarious actors to steal a person's information which can include their browsing habits as well as their sensitive private information. In some cases, spyware have also been known to redirect a user's browsing or to seal them off from certain files.
Despite this bleak outlook, however, there are some who use spyware for other reasons than stealing a user's information. Some corporations and companies are known for using keyloggers, a type of spyware which captures a user's keystrokes, on their employees' machines. Others employ a type of spyware that protects a company's digital rights through means of digital rights management capabilities which notifies a company when their software is being used illegally.
There are several types of spyware but they can be broken down into eight known types: tracking cookies, trojans, adware, DRM tools, rootkits, system monitors, keyloggers, and web beacons. The DRM tools, system monitors, and keyloggers can be used by corporations while more nefarious actors would use tracking cookies. An Adware would also be used by the latter party as they could use it to spam a user's computer with advertisements to either make their own ad-campaign more successful or to then follow-up by selling the user some type of solution to fix the issue. Trojans are simply a type of virus which hides in plain sight as a helpful application but in truth, it is not; as such, it is another type of malware a scammer would use. A rootkit also falls into this category as it is a type of program that allows a person to gain access to some part of a system (or the entire system) without permission. A web beacon, on the other hand, could be used for both good and bad reasons as it is simply a means to allow a person to check the content another user might have accessed. This tool is typically used for analytical reasons such as monitoring website hits and the popularity of certain web content pieces but it can also be used nefariously for exactly those same reasons.
How to Protect Yourself Against Spyware
The methods for one to become infected by spyware has definitely increased over the years but so too, have the methods on how one can counter it. Nevertheless, you should bear in mind that computers which have been afflicted with numerous types of spyware can usually only be saved by having a system restore or backup of all of its files. As such, it is always a good idea to keep your files and information backed up somewhere safe; usually, on the cloud or in a physical storage medium such as USB, NAS or HDD.
Antivirus software has improved in the modern days to include anti-spyware software within its suite of services and programs. Some AntiVirus software companies have released the standalone programs specifically designed to remove spyware. Anti-Spyware programs typically work in two phases: the first one is by having a live running service which scans all of the data being downloaded over the network to ensure that it is not a spyware threat. The second phase is akin to normal antivirus software in that it scans the system in search of any applications which might flag as spyware so that it can be removed.
Outside of software, there are some tips and habits one can employ to protect themselves as well at no cost to themselves. In the past, Internet Explorer was a lot more susceptible to spyware attacks and as such, many opted to use an alternate browser such as the Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome instead. While no browser can guarantee 100% safety, but browsers have improved significantly to fight against spyware. Deploying AntiVirus software and firewalls are also a good means t protect oneself. AntiVirus software will block any malicious code trying to downloaded files onto the user's system and will notify the user. Any suspicious activity running in the background can be detected and can only be allowed to be executed if the user accepts it.
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