Hacking directly into a computer system is not usually how cybercriminals gain access. It’s actually quite difficult to find exploits in a network that provide access to the system at a high level if you don’t know where you’re looking. Since many larger organizations work hard to ensure the systemic weaknesses inherent in their operating systems and network structures are compensated for with security programs and protocols, hackers often need to find ways to gain access to the information that will let them into a system by getting a legitimate user’s credentials. Spyware is one of the many ways they do this.

What Is It?

This is a term for any malicious software whose main intent is the surveillance of a computer system. It’s a type of malware that typically does not steal system resources, but that compromises it in other ways. Some programs focus on cameras and peripherals that let a cybercriminal surveil the room the computer is in, others log the activity on the computer itself. Either way, the goal is to gain access to the information needed to get into the system.

Keyloggers are one efficient way to do this, since they are light weight in terms of system resources, and they record everything typed into an interface. This can give a hacker any user’s password and username for any system they enter, and that’s more than enough for those seeking to exploit accounts for access to systems.

Spyware and Blackmail Operations

While they are less common in terms of the number of users affected as victims, software designed to turn a computer into an active surveillance device are frequently used to collect images and audio that could be used in blackmail operations. The targets are often younger women who are threatened with exposure while changing or in other private moments, but not exclusively. Those same programs can also be used to eavesdrop on offices and gather information on companies and computer systems, so personal computers are not the sole targets of those programs.

Convincing Victims to Install Spying Software

Typically, spyware requires another computer hacking operation to get into place, because victims don’t just install it on purpose. Here are some of the most common ways spying software makes it onto PCs at home and in office settings.

  • Trojan Software that looks like a legitimate app and then installs a secondary spying program
  • Forced Downloads that automatically start and execute in the background when a website is accessed
  • Social Engineering like false fronts that convince users they have a problem and the spyware is the solution
  • Malicious Attachments like forced downloads from web sites, these attachments download and execute as soon as you open the email because they are embedded in images or other files that some email services automatically open

Avoiding these common infection routes will do a lot to prevent any computer form being infected.