Spyware is a malicious tool designed to extract data from an user's device
Spyware is a type of malware designed to infiltrate, monitor and extract data from your devices. These nasty bugs wriggle their way into your smartphone or any other smart device and lay there, silently collecting information without your knowledge.
How does Spyware infiltrate a device?
Oddly enough, the simplest way a threat actor gains access to your device is because of something you did wrong. It can be as simple as a malicious link that you accidentally clicked on or an attachment on a mail that you opened.
Spyware needs to mask itself to hide its agenda. It gets you to click on an infected link by psychological manipulation such as attractive interest rates or discounts. When you click these links, it operates in the background, placing itself on your device and slowly taking it over.
Alternatively, the more complex forms of Spyware do not require user input at all. These are the dangerous ones that brute force their way into your device using known exploits such as zero click.
Sometimes it is even packaged alongside other programs, such as a software bundle. Fraudulent apps are another avenue.
Interestingly, not all Spyware is malicious. A lot of popular websites use something known as trackers that track your presence across the web. It helps them gauge your interest across topics and suggest content to you that may be relevant.
Another form of Spyware that popular services such as Facebook or Google routinely employ is called Adware. It will collect your system data and browsing habits to sell to advertisers.
Ever wonder why you suddenly start seeing ads for services or devices that you have shown an interest in online? Now you know why.
While this practice is frowned on for being unethical, it's hard to say if it will ever go away. Data is big money to advertisers.
The second, more vicious form of Spyware can be put into two categories. System Monitors and Keyloggers.
System Monitors monitor everything on your device - call logs, browsing activity, emails, messages, calls, and more. They extrapolate this data and send it over the network to the threat actor in charge of the operation.
Keyloggers trace your inputs on the device. Think of them as carbon paper. They can trace whatever your type on the keyboard. Naturally, this presents a threat to your passwords, credit card info, net banking details, social media accounts and more.
Spyware like Pegasus can do even more.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Never, ever open emails or messages from a source you are not familiar with. Remember, it only takes one click for the malware to act.
Refrain from downloading any attachments on email from people you do not recognise.
Always set your email up to not show any images by default. On Gmail, this can be done by navigating to Settings > All settings > Images > Ask before displaying external images > Save Changes.
Do not click on unknown URLs or links. These can be sent to you on instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp or through SMS or mails. Immediately delete that message or report and block the user.
Do not download any apps or .apk files from sources other than the Play Store or the App Store. Stay away from third-party app stores.
Get reliable security suites for your devices.
Do your research, pay the yearly cost and bite the bullet. Get an antivirus for both your PC and smartphone.
Sometimes you can get attractive offers for a bundle. Threat actors have also released software out in the wild that pretend to be anti-spyware tools or spyware removal tools. Your best bet is to look for reliable names like Kaspersky, McAfee, Bitdefender, Malwarebytes and so on.Be very cautious of apps that ask for permissions on your phone. Read what they are asking for, and then decide if you really want to give them permission.