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What is Spyware?
7/7/2023 - Brian O'Neill

Personal information is a valuable currency. Full names, dates of birth, contact details, physical addresses, personal/professional connections, and even political affiliations are regularly observed and recorded through legitimate, consented means and often used to create a more personalized online experience for each individual online user. Unfortunately, however, the retrieval and usage of personal information isn’t always limited to legal methods with established commercial outcomes.

lock graphics on top of laptop

What is Spyware?

Private personal information can be illegitimately monitored and even stolen from users on any given device through an insidious type of malware called spyware. This branch of malware is specifically designed to run on a user’s device without their knowledge or consent and report information about that user to one or more external third parties. That information can include extremely sensitive details like a user’s financial information, their keystrokes (any text a user types into their device), their login credentials for various applications, their browsing habits, and much more.

The impact of undetected spyware on any given user’s device or network of user devices can be simultaneously compromising and deeply unsettling, ranging from data theft to identify fraud. Sophisticated spyware can even leverage the built-in video camera and microphone on any given device to retrieve extremely sensitive information about that user’s physical surrounding environment.

Spyware Delivery Methods & Examples

Like most forms of malware, spyware is typically downloaded onto a user’s device without that user’s knowledge. Once the device’s anti-malware security policies are successfully bypassed, covert download techniques allow the malicious program to avoid user detection and carry out long-term spying activities unchecked.

Spam email attachments and links are an extremely common method of distribution, goading a user into initiating a malware download using social engineering tactics. In addition, safe-looking websites with underlying code vulnerabilities can be hijacked and utilized to inject spyware onto an unsuspecting client-side user’s device. It’s also possible for threat actors to package spyware alongside apparently legitimate product download files.

One extremely common form of spyware is Adware, which shares the activity it monitors on the user’s device with external advertisers or data brokers for financial gain. Another common example is a Keylogger (Keystroke Logging spyware), which stores the text information that a user types into their device at any given time – including anything from instant messaging conversations to credit card or login details – allowing external threat actors to spoof that user’s identity and access sensitive applications in their name. There are many more studied examples, and as effective solutions are developed to identify and prevent these iterations from causing harm, new versions inevitably take their place.

Preventing and Detecting Spyware

It’s critically important that users on any personal or professional network carefully evaluate the source of an email attachment or website link before accessing its contents. In addition, spoofed websites can sometimes be identified by a cursory inspection of the domain name and URL, and modern browsers are increasingly capable of alerting users when websites carry hidden threats.

If spyware downloads aren’t detected by a user’s anti-malware security policies, it’s sometimes possible to discern the presence of spyware by analyzing the performance of the user’s device. Spyware applications are always running in the background, which can have a noticeable impact on the efficiency of other applications. In blatant cases, new unidentifiable icons can appear on a user’s desktop homepage, or the homepage background might change entirely.

Detecting Spyware with the Cloudmersive Virus Scan API

The most effective method for detecting spyware (and any form of malware) before installation occurs on a device is through the deployment of regularly updated virus and malware detection software. Using the Cloudmersive Virus Scan API in conjunction with your applications, cloud storage instances, or via deployment at your network edge, you can identify a growing list of more than 17 million virus and malware signatures including spyware, ransomware, trojans, and more.

Additionally, using the Advanced Virus Scan API iteration, you can apply 360-degree content protection with custom threat rules to block hidden threats like executables, macros, scripts, and more. This API can be deployed in no-code or low-code form depending on your specific needs.

For more information on the Cloudmersive Virus Scan API, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our sales team.

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