Successful companies navigate a wide range of issues and challenges throughout their lifetime. Some of these can be navigated safely, while others are extremely detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the business. Take, for example, spyware. According to research, approximately 20 to 50 percent of companies will be infected with some form of spyware. Not only is this statistic eye-opening, but it can be quite concerning for growing organizations that are worried about privacy or that handle client information.
Learning how to avoid spyware is as simple as educating yourself and your organization, conducting regular spyware checks, and preventing spyware by taking the necessary preventative measures. Let’s dive into everything you need to be aware of in this spyware guide.
What Is Spyware?
Spyware is a form of malicious software (malware) that is secretly installed on your computer, generally when you engage in certain activities on the web that leave you vulnerable to infection.
Spyware usually infects computers when users open an email attachment, visit a website that has pop-up ads (or a generally untrustworthy appearance and other major warning signs), or download free software from the Internet without properly vetting it or conducting a spyware check with anti-virus software. Once spyware is installed, it can record your keystrokes and steal passwords to other accounts on your computer.
It also has the ability to send messages from your email account and access documents stored on your hard drive. Spyware can cause slowdowns in performance, memory issues, and fill up a hard drive.
Most disturbingly, 80 percent of all internet users will be infected by spyware at some point. Why is spyware so detrimental to the health of your business? For the business itself, the capabilities of spyware leave you vulnerable to hacking. Should malicious third parties be able to access sensitive data like your banking information or access to other major accounts, it puts you in a position where your business can be deeply impacted.
Of course, it’s not just your business that you have to think about. As a company, it’s your responsibility to keep your customers protected. Should malicious third parties access sensitive customer data, you can end up putting their financial (credit card information and other payment information) and personal information at risk as well. Conducting spyware checks and preventing spyware is essential to the safety of both your business and the customers who rely on you for your products and services.
Types of Spyware
Spyware, like malware, is a fairly broad term that encompasses a range of malicious software you might accidentally download at some point in time. To summarize, spyware is any kind of software that tracks your activity in order to collect information, whether this is about you, your customers, or other aspects of your company. However, in order to conduct spyware checks more effectively, you have to have an understanding of the different types of spyware out there. Some are more malicious than others, requiring you to take specific actions in order to successfully navigate the complications that accompany. Here’s an overview of the spyware that you may encounter as you operate your business.
- Adware: This type of spyware is often used as an advertising platform by websites or companies looking for ways to generate revenue through advertisements on their websites. Sometimes, it’s installed when you download freeware from untrustworthy sites. The adware will then track certain activities performed on your computer and send that information back to advertisers or companies who have paid for its use. Now, when conducting spyware checks, it’s important to remember that not all tracking activities are going to be illegal. Take, for example, remarketing and using tracking cookies or free apps to better understand your behavior and provide you with relevant ads. This is legal. So, what’s illegal? Some examples of illegal adware that you’ll want to pay attention to is any type of adware that is aggressively marketing to you and affecting your computer or adware that is downloading various software without your knowledge or consent.
- Spyware: Spyware is a form of malware designed specifically for monitoring user activity on their computers—it’s typically used by cybercriminals who want access to sensitive personal information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, and more without authorization (although there are other types). Preventing spyware by avoiding any downloads you can’t verify, conducting regular spyware checks, and employing the best anti-virus is of the utmost importance if you want to protect your business’s and your customer’s data.
- Malware: Malware is a term that’s short for malicious software. This type of spyware includes viruses, worms, Trojan horses aka Trojans (a type of virus, which is the most common type of malware that you will encounter), and, more recently, ransomware (a type where hackers take over a person’s device and encrypt their data, threatening to erase all of this information unless the organization affected pays the ransom to unlock this information). Some forms to look out for during your regular spyware checks include keyloggers (software used by cybercriminals that records every keystroke made on your keyboard), and rootkits (programs used by hackers that allow them access into protected areas without being detected), just to name a few.
Having a deep understanding of the many risks you face as you operate your business is one of the most essential aspects of protecting yourself moving forward. The above illustrates the multiple types of spyware that can be found on the internet today so that your organization can do a better job at preventing spyware as you continue to scale.
How Does Spyware Work?
As we’ve discussed, spyware is a type of software that is installed without your knowledge to collect information about your organization. But how exactly does spyware become a problem for companies like yours? What can you do to avoid spyware so that you don’t have to worry about catching something every time you conduct spyware checks in your organization?
The reality is that there are multiple ways computers can become infected with spyware. Here are a few common methods of infection to be aware of:
- Pop-Up Ads: Pop-up ads are, for the most part, just mildly annoying. However, some are extremely aggressive, either making it difficult to avoid them or sending you to another website regardless of whether you manage to successfully try to close it or not. Clicking on pop-up ads can allow spyware to take hold of your computer, whether you intentionally or unintentionally click on them.
- Email Attachments: Spyware checks should always be conducted on emails. Emails are the easiest way for scammers to get into your systems, especially if they manage to craft convincing emails that your employees might want to click on. Once an attachment is clicked on or a file is downloaded, it can open you up to spyware. Preventing spyware means educating your employees on what to look out for when they open emails so they don’t end up downloading spyware on their computers.
- Freeware or Other Software Downloads: Not all software can be trusted, especially if you’re downloading these files without properly scanning them or doing your research on the sites you’re downloading the files from. Once an attachment has been clicked on and downloaded into your system, it can produce disastrous consequences. While this may not be extremely common for organizations purchasing reputable software or using established SaaS services, those companies that have a more modest budget and are looking for ways to conduct business without breaking the bank might make the mistake of downloading software that opens them up to spyware instead. Always conduct spyware checks on files before you download and install anything on your computers.
- Malware-Infected Websites: Have you ever visited a website, only to notice that your system is sluggish after visiting or to receive a notification from your anti-virus that something has been downloaded? Malware-infected websites are a problem in and of themselves and can present the same dangers with greater ease. Stick to authoritative websites when you’re conducting research (pay attention to SSL certificates), downloading files, or engaging in other essential business activities.
Unfortunately, there are numerous ways business owners today can end up inviting spyware to infect their systems. Preventing spyware is made easier when you understand how spyware is introduced to computers and how you can safeguard against infection by avoiding these problems or enhancing security to defend against malware.
How Are Widespread Spyware Infections Introduced to Organizations?
Spyware checks are extremely easy to conduct when you’re running a small business on your own. But when you have a network of employees working on the same system, things can become more complicated. The reality is that spyware can affect far more than just one computer.
How? It’s as simple as targeting all of the individuals in an organization at once. Let’s imagine, for example, that everyone in your company received a very professional email that looks legitimate. In this email is an attachment that contains spyware. When each employee goes to download this attachment, their computers are then infected, giving the third party access to a wide range of sensitive data across multiple departments.
Unfortunately, spyware is very effective. Preventing spyware and conducting regular spyware checks should be a major focus for your organization. But where exactly do you get started?
How Do I Prevent Spyware?
So far, we’ve discussed what spyware is, how it impacts organizations, and how it spreads. However, it’s important to know what you can actually do to prevent spyware from taking over your data and putting your company in harm’s way. Let’s take a look at a few preventative measures so that you can maintain your peace of mind moving forward.
- Install anti-virus software that offers comprehensive coverage and has stellar ratings with other organizations. Because it can detect viruses and conduct spyware checks on various websites and attachments before you visit them or download them, it will help protect your computer from malicious software that may be trying to infect it.
- Set up a firewall. A firewall stops other computers from accessing yours over the internet and vice versa so that if someone gets into one of your devices, they won’t be able to access any others on your network by using it as an entry point (like a hacker would). The more protection you have, the easier of a time you will have preventing spyware from infecting your company’s system.
- Update your operating system regularly. Make sure you’re always running the latest version of the operating system for each device—this will keep them secure against newly discovered vulnerabilities in their coding and patches released by developers who have patched those vulnerabilities before they could cause trouble (for example, if someone discovers how they could bypass security measures built into a program like Chrome or Firefox then Google will release an update which fixes this issue). If possible, always choose automatic updating when prompted rather than manual updates since these tend not to work well when downloaded manually due to issues with permissions settings or other factors.
Spyware is an unavoidable reality of running a business in a digital society. Fortunately, there’s so much that you can do to make sure that your business doesn’t fall victim to this form of malware. Get the right support to conduct spyware checks and stop viruses in their tracks, keep devices updated, and help your employees steer clear of potential dangers by educating them. Making sure that they have an understanding of what spyware is and how it spreads throughout organizations is an important step in safeguarding your organization.
Preventing Spyware Is More Than Possible
Defending against spyware can be daunting, especially when you realize how deeply it can impact your business. That being said, spyware is preventable, especially with the right guidance. Need help making sure your website is secure? Get in touch with Coalition Technologies today to learn how we can help you!