The single most important way to spot spyware on your computer... (and it’s super easy to recognise)
For a small- to medium-sized business, the results of spyware infiltrating your machines can be devastating. The consequences can be far-reaching and include everything from business loss, financial fraud, and data destruction. But what is spyware and how do you spot it?
Spyware is a term with quite a broad definition. Essentially, it spans everything that records and monitors you and your behaviour in the online sphere. It’s the digitised version of a private detective, without the magnifying glass, deerstalker hat, and mac coat!
Spyware is typically installed on a device without the individual’s knowledge. Whether it’s through downloading software (with the spyware secretly attached) or opening an attachment on an email with some sneaky code, once the computer is hacked the spyware is able to see and gather data. This includes anything from your browser history to keystrokes, passwords, financial information and more.
The types of spyware to watch out for...
Spyware can come in many forms and each one has its own purpose and individual functions. There are, however, four main ones to look out for.
- Trojans – this is malware that looks authentic and nice enough for users to install on their devices, but unfortunately is anything but good. Trojans can access sensitive and confidential data that affect your system in a debilitating way.
- Adware – this is the kind of spyware that is accidentally installed via other software downloads, especially bundlers. The spyware then steals your information and uses data from your browser history and downloads to show you display windows or pop-up ads based on the information collected.
- Keyloggers and system monitors – this spyware gets on your system in the usual way (accidental download) and goes on to monitor and log all the activity on your machine, from keystrokes, to email, to site visits and more. The data is then used for a variety of reasons including selling it to advertisers or using it to steal money.
- Cookie trackers – while they might sound delicious, these are anything but. This spyware is a third-party tracker to monitor your internet activities. This spyware is usually used in a business setting to get an idea of your company operations, including new business ideas and corporate information.
How to identify that spyware has been installed on your device/s?
The number one way to spot spyware on your computer is if your machine’s performance suddenly and rapidly slows down. Spyware, once installed, will have a detrimental effect on your computer’s performance and it will be noticeable.
When spyware is installed it has the power to add more software to your system, switch settings on your computer, and redirect web searchers, for example. These kinds of actions are likely to cause issues such as bandwidth throttling, memory and computer resources to be used unknowingly and ultimately make your computer very slow. Aside from the security issues, business productivity can take a nose dive, particularly as your employees may find themselves unable to perform necessary tasks.
Spyware also can make your computer slow to boot up, load programs, and get web pages. An infected PC could be running dozens of hidden tasks all the time in addition to what the user is doing.
Other key signs to watch out for include:
- Multiple pop-up windows or unexpected messages
- New toolbars that appear on web browsers
- New icons or programs appearing on your device
- New browser homepages etc
So, if you’ve recently installed new third-party software on your system, or you opened an attachment on an email and had a flicker of concern about its authenticity, then you should take steps to identify potential spyware, and if found, get it dealt with quickly.
How to get rid of spyware on your device/s
If you have an IT team or use an outsourced IT support provider, contact them immediately to find out what you need to do for your business specifically and they will be able to give expert advice.
The spyware tools you need to use will depend on the size of your business.
- Very small organisations with a few computers might be able to get away with simply installing security programs and anti-spyware software to manage the threat.
- Businesses with 10 – 20 computer should consider using a dedicated security suite or employing a managed services provider with expertise in cyber security. The software will then be managed and maintained centrally and with added protection.
- More than 20 computers should be using enterprise-level tools, which will ensure much more complete protection, from the administration of updates and tasks to tools that will help bigger businesses stay safe.
If you're an entrepreneur dealing with the problem yourself, then the first step to removing spyware from your machine is to disconnect it from the internet as this can help ensure malware isn’t spread (over the cloud for example) and limit the possibility of a data breach or worse.
If you use Windows you could try booting into Safe Mode, which opens only the minimum processes and programs. In this state, delete all temporary files as this will help speed up your computer for the scanning to come. The Disk Cleanup Utility can be run at first to identify any obvious offenders. Then a dedicated anti-spyware program should work to ensure spyware and/or malware or viruses from the computer (if you don’t already have this software you may need to reconnect to the internet to download, in which case you may be better off employing an IT expert).
Scanning your computer thoroughly should ensure that any spyware is removed. However, if your scan turns up no spyware you may need to turn over your device to a cyber security expert. They might be able to tell you the origin of the spyware also, which will ensure you can avoid making the same mistakes again.
Want to ensure your business stays safe from spyware at an affordable price? Drop us a message now and we'll be in touch to explain exactly how we can help!