No one likes the feeling that someone is looking over their shoulder when they work, shop or surf online. But this is just what crooks and scammers do without our knowledge using “spyware.”
Spyware is a piece of software that can covertly gather information on you. It can track the websites you visit and even record what you type on your keyboard, including passwords and credit card numbers.
So, now the bad guys don’t have to steal your wallet to get access to your personal and financial information. All they need to do is trick you into installing spyware on your computer or device. Or they could install it themselves on public or shared computers using a USB drive, or similar device.
One of the more common forms of spyware found on shared computers is called a “keylogger.” It can record everything you type and send it back to the cybercrook. That’s why you should avoid using shared computers in hotels or public libraries, since they can be easily compromised.
Most spyware masquerades as legitimate software, such as free games or mobile apps. In fact, researchers believe that over three years, 1 million Google Play users downloaded a single piece of spyware alone. It appeared to be an official “System Update” application, but actually monitored the users’ location information and text messages without their knowledge.
Spyware can also easily spread online in the form of dangerous links in emails, and on social media or torrent sites, which offer free access to online content. That’s why you need to be careful where you click.
Another common form of spyware is called “adware.” Adware is used to display advertisements on your computer, or redirect your search inquiries to an advertiser’s website. Although this isn’t as harmful as spyware designed to steal your information, it is still invasive and annoying.
Since spyware is so prevalent and potentially harmful, putting both your private information and privacy at risk, it’s important that you take steps to protect yourself.
Here are some tips to keep you safe:
- Only visit trusted websites and be suspicious of sites offering “free” content or applications.
- Be careful when downloading any software or mobile apps from the web. Read other users’ reviews first to make sure the product is safe. Also, read any licensing or service agreements carefully to see if the provider is accessing more information than it needs to.
- Never leave your computer or devices unattended in public, since a cybercrook could potentially install spyware when you’re not looking.
- Avoid clicking on online ads, since they could lead to adware.
- Look out for anti-spyware scams. There are many phony “anti-spyware” tools online that offer free scans. They falsely detect multiple spyware programs on your computer to get you to buy their product.
- Make sure you use comprehensive security software that includes spyware protection, and keep it up-to-date.