Think about everything you’ve downloaded to your PC over the past six months. Can you remember each program or file you downloaded, and where that download came from? Most likely not, and even if you can, you may have gotten more than you bargained for – in fact, you may be infected with spyware that can be used for keylogging.
What is Spyware?
Spyware is a program installed on your computer – with or without your permission – that can change system configurations, monitor your online activity and send that information back to cybercriminals for them to either sell to third parties or use for their own criminal activity. If your computer has been running slower than usual, your home pages have suddenly changed or you’re constantly seeing annoying pop-ups, your PC may be infected. The milder forms of spyware, known as adware, only cause increased spam and unwanted pop-ups, resulting in some minor annoyances. On the other end of the spectrum, the most harmful forms of spyware can collect, use and distribute your personal information – including banking passwords and credit card numbers – often by recording your keystrokes.
What is Keylogging?
Keylogging is a type of spyware program that records every keystroke made on the keyboard of a computer, captured in the order they are pressed. When in the hands of cybercriminals, keylogging can have disastrous effects – using your personal information, like login credentials and credit card information, for online fraud or identity theft. Through keylogging, cybercriminals can gain access to everything from usernames and passwords, to PIN codes and Social Security numbers. Worst of all, without the proper tools in place, this type of spyware can often go undetected as there are no obvious signs when a keylogging program is in use.
Malware writers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, combining traditional forms of spyware with traditional viruses, and often disguising their spyware and keylogging programs as legitimate pieces of software. As a result, it can be difficult for some anti-spyware programs to accurately detect malicious keylogging software. Be sure to choose an anti-virus/anti-spyware program that can accurately label keylogging programs as spyware or a virus.
But I Don’t Download Unsafe Programs…
Even if you are careful when browsing the Internet and downloading software programs or other files, spyware can infiltrate your PC. Unfortunately, malicious applications are often bundled as a hidden component of free software or shareware programs that can be downloaded from both third-party and legitimate sites – meaning everyone is at risk.
The most common methods of spyware infection are through exploits of unpatched operating systems, Web browsers and software programs. Unfortunately, if you’re still using Windows XP, that can also put you at a higher risk. Microsoft no longer distributes security patches for the operating system, so any existing security vulnerabilities that are found will not be patched. If malware authors find a vulnerability in the system, they can and will exploit it knowing that it won’t be fixed.
How Can I Protect Myself?
Of course, just like staying safe from real-world crime, the best way to protect against cybercrime is to use common sense. Don’t click on suspicious links, always check the URL before logging into a site (phishing sites often look identical to their legitimate counterparts), change your password across different sites, don’t open emails from unknown senders and always keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software updated. At a minimum, make sure your PC is armed with the right tools to keep your information safe – anti-virus and anti-spyware software (such as the security offered in Ad-Aware Free Antivirus +, Ad-Aware Personal Security and Ad-Aware Pro Security), and a two-way firewall are the bare necessities for protecting your computer. To ensure all your bases are covered, consider an all-in-one security solution, such as Ad-Aware Total Security, which provides anti-malware, a firewall, anti-spam, anti-phishing, and much more – ensuring complete online protection.