Cell phones, with installed applications and linked online accounts, hold a hefty amount of valuable data – from personal information to multimedia files to transaction confirmations. This is why phone users must always take precautionary measures when initiating online or offline activities. Unfortunately in this technologically advanced modern era, even predators and criminals have gone digital.
Most cyber attackers utilize software to carry out their malicious acts. A spyware program, for instance, takes advantage of security loopholes to establish a stable connection between the target device and its servers. Like most phone applications, spyware is like a double-edged sword. Depending on the user, such programs could either harm or protect. Read on and learn what spyware is, the types of spyware, and how it could benefit you.
What Is Spyware?
Spy software, more commonly known as spyware, is a program generally designed to spy on a device or network. Most tech experts claim spyware is a type of malware. It’s been categorized as malicious software since it typically has to bypass an operating system’s security protocols to function properly. Plus, spyware is installed on the target device without the knowledge or consent of the user. This is one of the main reasons for its bad reputation.
Like viruses, spyware isn’t solely created for exploitation. Though its functions and features sound shady and suspicious, several users benefit from such tools. After all, spyware is a program designed to remotely gather data, files, and other data. Like most software, it depends on the end-user if the results are harmful or beneficial.
Features may vary, depending on the type and brand of spyware utilized, but in most cases, here are the common ones.
- GPS Tracking – Real-time updates of GPS coordinates around 50ft from the actual location.
- Phone Diagnostics – Access to phone details, battery life, Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth connection, and more.
- Stored Files – Stored photos, videos, audio clips, recordings, songs, movies, documents, and other files.
- Saved Information – Access to calendar notes, saved information in notepad, set alerts, and other data inputs.
- Internet Activities – List of URLs, keyword searches, frequency of site visits, timestamps, and every activity through the internet.
- Engagements and Interactions – Text messages, chat conversations, phone call logs, video calls, and emails.
- Third-Party Apps – All activities within third-party apps like social networking apps and gaming platforms.
- Keystrokes – Real-time recording of keystrokes regardless of where they’re typed in.
Types of Spyware
Spying programs are often linked to spyware infections. However, as previously mentioned, that’s not how all spyware works. Not all of these tools are solely utilized for data exploitation and information extraction. To better understand the concept, here are the most common types of spyware.
Advertisement software or adware is a tool utilized by advertisers to offer more targeted products or services. This system monitoring program tracks user searches, purchases, and posts which will be utilized for more personalized marketing strategies.
- Trackers and Hijackers
Trackers and hijackers could be in the form of hardware or software. Device trackers and modem hijackers utilize equipment or wires to tap and penetrate one’s network. These could also be software programs that reset your browser homepage and reroute you to different – typically infected – web pages.
Keyboard logger spyware is specifically designed to record keystrokes. Through such programs, hackers gain access to usernames, PINs, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data.
As the name implies, this spyware is created to steal information. Like keyloggers, infostealers are typically utilized for exploitation and theft by taking advantage of browser vulnerabilities. The data collated from infected devices is then sold to third parties or used for identity thefts.
- Monitoring Software
Monitoring software is not only packed with monitoring features but is also loaded with parental controls and security settings. These are designed for parents and employers who wish to regulate phone use at home and in the workplace.
- Commercial Spyware
Commercial spyware is utilized by companies and entrepreneurs to streamline and enhance business processes. Like adware, commercial spyware monitors user activities to conduct more targeted marketing strategies and provide more personalized products/services.
Is Spyware Good or Bad?
So, is spyware a cybersecurity threat? Well, it boils down to the user of the software. Though the means are basically the same despite the type of spyware utilized, it’s the purpose that defines whether the software itself is a good or bad thing.
Sure, spyware is more likely to be utilized for malicious acts. After all, it’s spying software by nature. It’s packed with tracking and monitoring features that bypass the system and network security protocols. Aside from being installed without the owner’s knowledge and/or consent and the possibility of a data breach, phone users instinctively wish to remove spyware because of its adverse effects to the device itself, including:
- Faster battery draining
- Higher data usage
- Random pop-ups
- Weird messages and notifications
- Slower ROM and system latencies
- Eating up RAM storage
- Device overheating
- Unwanted background noises
Then again, there are also legitimate spy software that offer similar monitoring and tracking features. Such spy apps are specifically developed for legal and lawful purposes like child and employee monitoring. To help parents and employers, these tools are programmed with parental controls and security settings, including:
- Screen time limit
- Remote phone lock
- Application or website blocking
- Content filter
- Keyword alert
How Does Spyware Infiltrate One’s Device?
Spyware offers various ways to successfully install the software to the target device. While not always, the method could depend on the ultimate purpose of the software. For instance, infostealers may utilize a malicious website to lure victims into clicking the link that would trigger the download process.
Here are some ways how spyware can infiltrate or penetrate a device.
- False System Upgrade or Legitimate-Looking App
In the same way great tech minds seem to not run out of ideas in advancing technology, hackers keep pushing their limits in creating ingenious ideas to penetrate devices. By copying well-known brands and/or familiar logos, they mask malicious spyware and present it like legitimate-looking software. Some of these even make it to official app stores, surprisingly passing security screening.
Other spyware also uses system upgrade notifications or lures target users into clicking or triggering the installation process.
- Phishing Messages, Social Engineering, or Malicious Advertising
Phishing and social engineering could be accomplished through text messages, emails, calls, or notification pop-ups. Spyware authors take advantage of user’s fear of missing out (FOMO) and utilize a certain level of urgency. By doing so, they get to encourage users to voluntarily download the software or click on certain links/buttons.
Malicious advertising can also be utilized to catch the user’s attention. This could be in the form of a random sale, limited supply, or a special offer for chosen consumers. Malicious spyware users utilize creative marketing strategies to lure users into accessing infected sites or clicking on falsified buttons.
- Direct Device Download
Like most programs, some spyware could be manually downloaded to the target device. The spyware user seeks ways on how to gain physical access to the phone for a short period to manually install and activate the software.
Some of these programs also enable remote installation. Depending on the spyware, the user might just need the person’s Apple login credentials or the phone number. It’s just like logging into an only account using a username and password.
If taken individually, spyware is nothing. Depending on the viewpoint, spyware could be a threat or security software. If you’re a regular phone user, it wouldn’t hurt you to install anti-spyware tools to avoid falling victim to identity theft or privacy breach. If you’re a spyware user, be sure to proceed with extreme caution and be responsible in handling the data gathered.