Spyware is one of the most common network infections. It infiltrates your system in a variety of ways and can often do its dirty work behind the scenes without being noticed.

How is spyware different from a virus?

Both spyware and viruses can infect and wreak havoc on your network, but they do it in different ways. Viruses destroy information, but spyware collects it. A virus may bring down your system quickly, while spyware can lurk undetected in the background gathering sensitive information.

How does spyware get on my computer?

The most common way for spyware to enter your system is through email. Often it is through email that appears to be legitimate but are actually from a nefarious source. This is known as phishing. There are a few different ways the attempted hackers accomplish this.

Most of us are familiar with spam email. We can easily recognize them because they tell us we've won some outlandish prize, may have inherited money, or are offering a job that we never applied for. We know not to click the links, or even open the email, but sometimes it's not always so easy.

There are also less obvious ways a hacker may slip email into your system that does get opened and clicked.

Hackers will research a company to find the names and email addresses of employees. They can then create email that appears to be coming from important members of the staff like the CEO, finance manager, or a client. This seemingly legitimate email may be requesting sensitive information or even a wire transfer of funds. Lower-level employees may follow the instructions as they would normally be expected.

Hackers will also register domains with URL addresses similar to that of the company they are attempting to target. They will then send out email under the false domain, telling clients and employees they need to change their password which links them to the false site. Hackers may also pose as vendors and reach out to employees for information that will give them direct access to the company's network.

Illegally-downloaded software, videos, and music can also include spyware that can infect your computer.

How do I know if I've been infected?

While spyware may not completely disable your system, there are some signs you may notice if your computer or network has been infected:

  • Your computer may be running slow
  • You'll notice strange pop-ups - sometimes ones that won't go away
  • You may be re-directed to a site other than the one you tried to access
  • An unfamiliar search engine has been downloaded to your desktop

How do I protect my network from spyware?

Protecting your computer and network from threats takes a layered approach. Installing anti-spyware software is an important step in the process, but protection requires more than just one step. The good news is there are some simple practices you can put in place to protect your system.

  • Install anti-spyware software and make sure it is kept up to date
  • Make sure email is coming from reputable sources
  • Ensure URLs are official and not leading to a copycat site
  • Don't store credit card numbers, or other sensitive information, on your server
  • Don't use debit cards for online purchases - they don't have the same protections credit cards do
  • Don't download illegal software, music, or videos

Check out our Small Business Security videos! In the video below Stimulus Technologies CEO discusses more about what Spyware is and how to protect your business.

You can find more of our Small Business Security video series on our YouTube channel.