Spyware is a classification of malicious software that’s based on the ultimate consequence of their attacks: theft of information from your PC, especially private or potentially profitable data. Spyware is often designed to steal passwords and other login-related information that allows criminals to hijack accounts for banks or even gaming applications. Although the methodology of a spyware attack can vary significantly, most types of spyware will use sophisticated strategies to avoid giving themselves away to the PC user.
Many types of spyware can be divided into subclassifications. For example, keyloggers are a form of spyware that record keyboard input, while banking trojans or banker trojans are a form of spyware that steal bank account information. These categories aren’t mutually-exclusive; many types of spyware will include multiple functions from several sub-categories (such as recording keyboard data and also launching browser hijack attacks).
All forms of spyware are dangerous to the information that’s stored on your computer and should be considered extreme violations of your privacy. Our malware research team particularly recommends the usage of potent anti-malware products to detect or remove spyware infections due to the array of advanced obfuscation and stealth techniques that many types of spyware use.
Common Symptoms of Spyware Attacks
Perhaps more than any other PC threat besides rootkits, spyware programs are built to avoid detection – since they can scarcely steal your information if you know that they’re on your PC! Accordingly, symptoms of spyware attacks are likely to be extremely minor and, upon occasion, not in evidence at all. However, some types of spyware will show small traces of indirect evidence during their attacks.
Some types of spyware redirect victims from normal websites towards phishing copycat sites as a preferred method of informational theft. While phishing sites that are promoted by banking trojans and similar types of spyware are often designed to look as close as possible to the original site, our malware experts note that watching for minor changes in the web address or URL can help you spot phishing sites. You should also be wary of login portals that display themselves in unusual ways – for example, if a site asks you to log in to your account under circumstances that ordinarily wouldn’t require you to do so.
Many types of spyware are also active in memory, either as independent memory processes or (more frequently) as code that’s injected into normal system processes. If you’re aware of how much memory a process normally uses and can notice sharp discrepancies in RAM or CPU expenditures, you may be able to detect a spyware code-injection attack. Primitive types of spyware may also degrade your computer’s performance with their constant reconnaissance activities.
The Consequences of a Spyware Infection
Like most types of malicious software or malware, spyware is often designed to make money for the criminals that distribute it. Inadequate protection from spyware attacks can result in theft of bank account assets, loss of control over website/application accounts or even a loss of in-game items and currency (as in the case of the mmorpg genre’s infamous gold-farming industry). Even purely visual or audio data aren’t guaranteed to be safe from spyware, since spyware often includes such functions as taking screen captures or spying on webcams and microphones.
Our malware researchers suggest that you immediately take measures to disinfect your PC if you suspect that you’ve acquired a spyware infection. If at all possible, you should also try to identify the information that the spyware has targeted and take appropriate security precautions. For example, changing passwords for an account that’s been targeted by spyware attacks can prevent criminals from hijacking your account with the already-stolen data (regardless of what happens to the spyware program from that point onward).