How to avoid being infected with spyware and adware
While there are many kinds of malware, spyware and adware are the most common and pernicious. While they have very different effects – one tends to be more obvious than the other – both can be famously hard to remove, and pose a threat to your privacy and system performance.
Dealing with spyware and malware when you get them can be difficult, so you’re best off avoiding them entirely. Here’s everything you need to know about spyware and malware: what they are, how they work, and the ways you can improve your cybersecurity to avoid being infected.
What is spyware?
Spyware is malware that’s designed to spy on you. This spying can take different forms, but generally involves collecting information about how you use your computer or other device. This might include the software you use, websites you browse to, your payment details, the passwords you use, and more. Though some spyware is more innocuous than others, the potential breach of privacy means it can be extremely dangerous.
Spyware usually runs silently in the background, or disguises itself as a harmless program, and quietly monitors everything you do on your device. Sometimes, spyware is bundled with other legitimate programs, either by the developer or someone who has added it to the original installer, and uploaded it to a third party site. There are several historic examples of companies secretly including spyware with their software to collect user data they can later use for marketing, although this is thankfully now illegal.
What is adware?
Adware is malware that advertises products to you on your device. These ads are often extremely persistent, popping up on your desktop, in your browser, and generally getting in the way while you’re using your device. Some will even dynamically change the content in your browser to contain their own ads, or open links to their websites, either to benefit from ad revenue or in order to try and get you to spend money.
In some cases, the adware may attempt to extort you by offering discounted security software that promises to remove the exact same ads it has created. Whatever the ads are for, adware is likely to seriously slow down your device, in addition to getting in the way of all your online activities. This makes it simultaneously the most intrusive and annoying form of malware, but also the least directly dangerous to the integrity of your data.
How to protect yourself from spyware and adware
Spyware and adware are both scary, particularly with the security concerns of the former. Crucially, they are also often difficult to remove. Like most forms of malware, spyware and adware will use every trick up their sleeves to prevent you from removing them, including disabling your antivirus protection and not appearing in your list of installed programs.
The good news is that simple changes to the way you behave online can prevent you from encountering any malware in the first place. Whether your device is targeted by stealthy spyware or annoying adware, a few simple precautions will help you stay safe:
- Never open links or download attachments in suspicious or unexpected emails. Try to only download files from contacts you trust, and make sure to enable virus scanning for email attachments in your mail client (you can find instructions on how to do this online).
- Never download anything from websites that you can’t be sure are legitimate. The same advice goes for people you can trust, too – don’t download a random Google Drive link just because Google is a trusted website.
- Only install apps and programs from official application stores whenever possible. If there isn’t an app store option for it, look for the developer’s official website, and avoid generic software download sites such as CNET.
- Keep your operating system and antivirus software up-to-date. Spyware and adware often exploit vulnerabilities in this software to install themselves and remain undetected. If you don’t have an enterprise antivirus solution, free options such as Windows Defender, Malwarebytes and Avast are trustworthy and effective.
- Don’t forget to regularly back up your data! Adware and spyware can become deeply embedded, which sometimes requires a complete reset. In the unfortunate case that your device does get infected, this will allow you to repair it without losing any files.
- Consider installing an adware blocker in your web browser. This will prevent adware from working correctly, and may also block ads that could lead you to install adware.
- Run regular scans. Today’s advanced threats require constant vigilance to ensure tested solutions remain effective against any emerging threats. Most antivirus and anti-malware software will allow you to arrange periodic scans, ideally one per week.
Adware and spyware are both forms of malware that can infect your computer without your knowledge. While both can be damaging and debilitating for your devices and data, both are easily protected against by taking simple precautions, both in how we use the internet and the cybersecurity software we use.
So before you download anything from the internet, be sure to consider all of the above first. Having the knowledge and assurance that what you are browsing is safe and will keep your system secure from hackers. Learn how Sota can help you against malware, including spyware and other cyber attacks, by contacting a member of the team today.