Here's Looking At You (and your data): What Is Spyware?
Summary: This 3-minute article discusses the different types of spyware everyone needs to know about. Learn how to remove spyware. Then, for additional expert IT consulting services, contact GEEK-AID Computer and Network Support at https://www.geekaid.com/ to explore the best comprehensive business IT solutions for your small to midsized business.
Nobody likes being spied on. Even someone looking over our shoulder can feel like an invasion of our personal space. But, in the cyber-connected world, some bad actors are constantly finding ways to monitor, manipulate and steal your private data. Spyware attacks are usually part of the digital dark side of advertising, monitoring your online purchases, activities and preferences and directing you to other websites.
Spyware is not a James Bond gadget used for espionage, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, it is used by advertisers and is also called adware. Adware is a type of software that, once installed on a computer, can proactively redirect you to other, possibly malicious websites, force a barrage of pop-up ads to appear seemingly out of nowhere and monitor the user’s web browser activities. The most nefarious examples of adware can log what keystrokes you’ve hit on your computer and capture your most private data, including credit card numbers, bank accounts, login credentials and many other categories of your personal information.
How Can I Tell If Spyware Is On My Computer?
Before you can remove spyware, you must recognize the symptoms. Here are some signs that you may have fallen victim to spyware:
- Slow Computer – If your computer is getting slow and programs are taking forever to load, it could mean that spyware is running in the background and draining resources, such as RAM, which affects functionality.
- Redirection – If you type a known website’s URL into your browser and are taken to a different website than what you’ve typed, you likely have spyware installed.
- Non-Stop Pop-Ups – If you are bombarded with pop-up ads for things you don’t want and have never asked for, these windows are the product of adware installed without your knowledge.
- Search Engine Swap – A sudden change in the search engine used to execute searches is another strong indicator of the presence of adware.
- Mystery Tool Bars – When browsing, if you suddenly notice a new toolbar you did not proactively install, adware might be installing it to give you more things to click and more ways to be compromised.
- The Appearance of Task Tray Icons – Just as a new toolbar in your browser is cause for concern, so is the appearance of icons in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen. Advertisers and hackers count on user impulsivity. Our warning mantra is “Always think before you click!”
- Home Screen Changes – If you open your browser and suddenly see a new home screen, you should take note. The more you get confused by adware installations, the more likely you are to click on things without realizing the consequences.
- Windows Error Messages – Error messages alone are not necessarily related to spyware. Other issues can cause your computer to send error messages. However, repeated error messages, in tandem with some of the other above symptoms, can be a sign of interference by adware.
- Keystroke Malfunctions – Although a broken keyboard can cause the same symptoms, if you find specific keys stop working when browsing, adware could be the culprit. Likewise, if the keyboard works in other programs but not in your browser, you can eliminate the physical keyboard as a cause of the problem.
Adware installations are sometimes challenging to detect. However, rootkit viruses take spyware to a much more deadly level. Rootkit viruses allow bad actors to hijack control of a computer system (at the operating system level) with all its files and functions without the user knowing. Rootkits can be installed via a click on an innocent-looking email download or an infected application. So again, “Think before your click!” The good news is that your anti-virus program can run a rootkit scan.
What Is A Rootkit Scan?
Rootkit scans are performed through anti-virus programs. However, the only sure way to detect the presence of rootkits is to run the scan from a computer with a clean system. Otherwise, the cybercriminal can be tipped off and circumvent or compromise the scan. In the worst cases, rootkit viruses might only be removed by reinstalling your system software.
What Are Cookies On A Computer and Why You Should Care About Them?
Cookies are files with small amounts of text that share your computer’s identity with your computer network. However, HTTP cookies contain user browsing history and other data related to your online behavior. They are meant to enhance a user’s browsing experience by remembering certain identifying and behavioral data about them, making browsing more personalized, faster and more efficient. However, if compromised and in the wrong hands, identifying data stored in cookies can be breached by cyber thieves and used to hack into users’ bank accounts, credit cards, payroll and many other personal and financial platforms. To lessen the chances of data being stolen through cookies, it is wise to regularly delete cookies in your browser. Clearing browsing history and cookies is part of essential IT maintenance.
Spyware that generates pop-up advertisements is one of its most benign forms. However, hackers can compromise all of a user’s personal data, and the user might not know about it until it’s too late. Network cyber security is vital to your privacy and your identity. If you are not computer savvy, you should enlist the services of IT professionals to help you defend your system against all cyberattacks.