Spyware: How To Detect, Remove & Prevent

WhatsApp users are being urged to update their WhatsApp smartphone apps immediately because of a new spyware bug that allows hackers to take over your phone by simply calling it, whether you answer or not.

The spyware which has breached WhatsApp encrypted services is able to trawl through texts, calls and other data, allowing hackers to activate your phone’s camera and microphone, and performing other malicious activities. The spyware is known to have affected all services with WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business installed, including Android Phones, Apple’s iPhone (iOS), Windows Phones and Tizen devices, according to Facebook.

With over 1.5 Billion users, WhatsApp is one of the most popular online messaging apps – however, the number of users affected has not been released.

This poses the question; would you be able to tell if spyware was installed on your device?

Spyware is the umbrella term for malicious software that infects your PC and mobile devices to gather information about you, your browsing and internet usage habits, as well as other data.

Spyware is usually sneaky – it finds its way onto your devices without your knowledge or permission, attaching itself to your operating system and remains there until you hopefully notice one day. However, sometimes users may give certain software permission to install spyware, as you may have inadvertently given permission for the spyware to install itself when you agreed to the terms and conditions of a seemingly legitimate program you downloaded without reading the fine print.

No matter how spyware invades your PC, it quietly runs in the background, collecting data, monitoring your activities and can furthermore run malicious activities without your knowledge. This includes capturing keystrokes (tracking the keys struck on your keyboard), screenshots, authentication credentials, personal email addresses, web form data, internet usage information and other personal information such as credit card numbers.

Unfortunately, spyware is not just one type of program. It is an entire category of software that includes adware, trojans, keystroke loggers and information stealing programs that can be found on both PC’s and mobile devices.

Adware – Adware is the name given to programs that are designed to display advertisements on your computer, redirect your search requests to advertising websites and collect marketing data about you in order for customised adverts to be displayed.

Adware can be installed through freeware of shareware programs as well as through infected websites.

Keyboard Loggers –Keyboard Loggers is a type of surveillance technology used to monitor and record keystrokes. Cyber criminals can use these to steal sensitive information such as authorisation credentials, enterprise data and computer activity.

Trojans – A Trojan horse or a Trojan is a type of malware that is often disguised as legitimate software. Trojans can be employed by cyber criminals and hackers trying to gain access to a user’s system. Users are typically tricked by social engineering into loading or executing trojans onto their systems. Once activated, Trojans can enable cyber-criminals to spy on you, steal your sensitive data and gain backdoor access to your system which can include deleting data, blocking data, modifying data, copying data and disrupting the performance of computers and networks.

Mobile Spyware – Mobile Spyware is a classification of software programs that monitors and records information about an end user’s actions without the user’s knowledge or permission. Like desktop spyware, mobile spyware is often installed unwittingly by the end user through third-party software, through malicious websites or when their device is left unattended.

Once installed, mobile spyware can eavesdrop on conversations, access data that is stored on a transmitted device and can furthermore take over the mobile’s applications, such as the camera, microphone and other apps.

Spyware can be difficult to detect; often, the first indication a user has that their device has been infected with spyware is a noticeable reduction in processor or network connection speeds and in the case of mobile devices, data usage and battery life.

Other indicators that your device has spyware is through noticing sudden changes in how your device behaves, such as the battery being hotter than usual, the battery draining faster than usual, random system shut-downs, strange messages, background noises and distortions in the screen.

To prevent spyware, users should only download software from trusted sources and read all disclosures when installing software. Users should furthermore avoid clicking on pop-up ads and stay current with updates and patches for browsers, operating systems and application software. To reduce the probability of infection, network administrators should practice the principle of least privilege (POLP) and require remote workers to access network resources over a virtual private network (VPN) that runs a security scan before granting access privileges.

If you think you are a victim of spyware, it is best to double check by searching the files on both your PC and mobile device. You can do this by going to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications or Running Services on mobile devices to spot any suspicious looking activity. On a PC, installing a trusted anti-virus scanner will allow spyware to be detected.

If you believe you have Spyware installed on your device, you can do the following:

Disconnect from the internet

Either remove your ethernet cable or disconnect from the wireless connection

Try to uninstall the program

Check the add/remove programs list in the Windows Control Panel. If the unwanted program is listed, simply highlight it and click the remove button. After removing the adware or spyware, reboot the computer. Make sure you reboot after uninstalling, even if you are not prompted to do so.

Access the Hard Drive

If the adware of spyware isn’t removed, you need to access the hard drive in safe mode, so the adware or spyware doesn’t load. You can then remove spyware and adware folders manually to delete them.

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