Criminals are becoming increasingly innovative in the technological age. One of the tools cybercriminals use is so-called spyware – applications that allow criminals to break into the victim’s computer or phone and to collect the victim’s personal data without their knowledge. Later, this information is used for extracting money from the victim’s bank account, as well as for other crimes.
Cyber spy
Cyber spy
© Shutterstock

Spyware can find their way into any computer

Tomas Stamulis, the Manager of the Informational Security Management Group at ATEA emphasizes the fact that technology users often make themselves vulnerable to spyware simply by being negligent of the real cybersecurity needs.

“Spyware usually gets access to users’ devices when they download untrustworthy or illegal programs. When computers are unprotected – i.e., when their operational system is not updated or when no antivirus app is installed – the user can “catch” spyware simply by browsing online, by visiting a malicious website, or by opening an “infected” email attachment, among other ways,” explains T. Stamulis.

In some instances, a website or a pop-up window will offer downloading a certain app that actually is spyware. Further, such malware can enter your computer when installing other software –installation packages may have “additional components” that users often do not notice as they tend not to read the contents of the package carefully. This often happens when you are installing free versions of the app. Recently, distributing fake antivirus apps has become a popular way to distribute spyware. Another way spyware enters the computer is through browser plugins and other extensions to your regular apps. Various toolbars, search bars, or “animated browsing companions” all may collect information from your computer.

Such spyware apps collect all information about the user: their browsing habits, emails, communications app data. They may also share the files stored on the computer (i.e., photos and documents) with cybercriminals and register your keyboard clicks to extract sensitive information (i.e., your passwords) that would give criminals access to your device or personal accounts.

Caution is a prerequisite for staying secure

After criminals successfully use spyware to extract personal information from their victim, they then use that information seeking financial gain.

T. Stamulis offers one essential rule for those hoping to protect themselves from cybercriminals and to prevent spyware from entering your devices – stay alert.

“Everybody should continuously seek to deepen their knowledge about cyber threats and types of cybercrime, should not visit unknown websites, should never open email and email attachments from unknown or unexpected senders, should install an antivirus app, as well as an app that prevents the launch of any unknown files or commands,” lists the specialist of Informational security management.

Check if there is spyware on your computer

Most often, users can know if their computer has spyware if browser windows continue opening even after the browser is turned off. Further, unrecognizable extensions or bars may appear on the browser toolbar. An additional signal that the computer is infected is the slowdown of the computer performance and a slower browsing speed; additionally, check if one browser app is working fast while another other is uncharacteristically slow. Any sudden changes in browser settings (like homepage) may also indicate an infection with spyware.

However, spyware and malware can be most effectively discovered with specialized apps that allow not only to detect, but also to remove any threats to the device. Below, we present two popular, free apps that you can easily find online and install to protect your computer.

“Spybot Search & Destroy”

This is one of the most popular free apps that helps find and remove spyware programs, Trojan malware, and other types of malware. This app does not replace other antivirus software, but it has many of their functions. After you install the app, click on “System Scan.” After the scan is complete, the detected threats are presented in the app window. They can be removed by clicking “Fix selected.”

“Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool”

This is a free malware search and removal tool for Windows operational system. The app does not perform constant scanning, it needs to be manually started each time you launch the app. Malware monitoring options include a shorter “Quick scan” and a detailed “Full scan.” The user is notified about the detected threats. However, the app does not remove all malware – some need to be eliminated with specific antivirus software.

There are many more free tools for detecting and removing malware made by trustworthy developers (i.e., ESET, “Bitdefebder”, etc.). Further, the National Cybers Security Center of Lithuania has prepared several free tools for this goal, available at www.nksc.lt, under “Tools.”

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