What Exactly is Spyware?

Thankfully, people are on heightened guard to keep their communications secure from hackers and identity thieves. We’ve all seen companies and even political parties suffer high-profile data breaches, and awareness of the risks out there is good because there are multiple threats out there, and they aren’t all the same.

It’s a safe bet that anything with the suffix “ware” is bad news, but having a better understanding of the specific threat can help you stay safe.

“Spyware” is a unique risk that can permanently compromise your phone, so let’s learn more about it now.

Different Types of Trojan Horses

The poet Virgil describes in The Aeneid the story of the ancient Trojans, the ancestors of the Roman civilization. The Greeks appeared to have sailed back home after a long siege, and all that remained was a large wooden statue of a horse — the Trojans wheeled it inside their gates, thinking it a trophy of war, and at night the Greek soldiers hiding inside crept out and sacked the city as it slept.

When it comes to spyware, a Trojan is a type of malicious code that looks legitimate, but can take control of your computer. A Trojan disguises itself as something the user wants, and after it’s downloaded, it can damage, disrupt, steal data, or inflict other harms on you.

Have you ever seen a suspicious email from someone you don’t recognize asking you to click a dubious link? Such emails could very well be a cybercriminal trying to lure you into downloading the Trojan. Unlike a computer virus, a Trojan can’t replicate itself on your device.

It can only get onto your computer or phone if you open the door. Once a Trojan is inside the gates, you can’t get it back outside, and the danger is irreversible. Likewise, once your phone is compromised with a Trojan, it’s better to throw it away and buy a new one.

There are multiple types of Trojan, and all of them are dangerous. A Ransom Trojan seeks ransom money from the user and will bar access to their own device until they pay. A Remote Access Trojan can give the hacker control over your device and steal your information and spy on you.

Some Trojans are designed specifically for phones. An SMS Trojan can send and intercept text messages. Apart from stealthily compromising the security and confidentiality of your messages, they can message premium-rate numbers and drive up your phone bill.

A person may have a Trojan on their cell phone without knowing it and carry on indefinitely as if everything is normal.

Law Enforcement Uses Spyware?

Trojans aren’t only used by cybercriminals. In fact, law enforcement agencies in places like Germany have used them to sidestep encryption and eavesdrop on suspected individuals. Security gaps on people’s phones left them susceptible to what police grimly and euphemistically call “source telecommunication surveillance.”

Federal police used Trojans to access information stored on smartphones. For “operational reasons,” they refused to say the extent to which they use spyware to listen in on private citizens.

Spyware can monitor the most sensitive data on your phone, including:

  • Call history, including phone numbers, dates, and length of calls
  • Contacts
  • Texts messages, even phone number and SMS content
  • Photos
  • Internet browsing history and bookmarks
  • Emails downloaded to the phone

That criminals and law enforcement alike both use spyware only reinforces how many people are potentially trying to access sensitive information and how varied the threats are. Cybercriminals are dangerous when they know how to weaponize spyware, but at least they don’t have the protections and resources of the state behind them.

How Do You know if Your Phone has Spyware On it?

Spyware is a trap that must be cloaked for as long as possible for it to be effective. By design, it’s hard to tell when spyware has infected your phone. If the victim knew their device was compromised, they’d use a new phone and put an end to the threat.

If your phone is infected with spyware, you may notice it gets hot, or the battery quickly drains when you’re not using it. However, these things could be attributed to other perfectly innocuous reasons, such as the phone is simply getting older.

You may also see unexpected notifications or startup and shutdown times that are longer than usual. Ultimately, if you’re in a position where you’re unsure if you have spyware on your phone, you haven’t taken your cybersecurity seriously enough in the first place. Using a ChatMail phone is an effective way to know you’re free of spyware.

How to Steer Clear of Spyware

Safe habits are crucial to keep everyone’s sensitive information private. There are a few basic things you can do to reduce the odds of encountering spyware.

  • Avoid unsafe websites: if security software indicates a site may not be safe, close the window
  • Be skeptical of strange emails: don’t open a link from an email address you don’t recognize
  • Don’t download software or programs unless you trust the publisher
  • Never click on pop-up windows promising free stuff or helpful services

Taking the above precautions should be engrained in your daily habits and your colleagues’ too. If somebody in your office gets their phone compromised, it could directly affect you or your business. Organizations are only as strong as their weakest link, so everyone has a role to play in cybersecurity.

Keeping up with cybersecurity risks is often a game of cat and mouse — people who use spyware try to find new weaknesses to exploit, while cybersecurity experts keep vigilant, trying to anticipate and patch up any security holes before they become problems. In addition to taking basic steps to avoid falling into a trap, platforms using ChatMail help people communicate confidently without fear of spyware or other security vulnerabilities.

For peace of mind and business stability, the best encrypted phone provider lets you stay connected without worrying about all the threats out there, including every form of spyware. Don’t hesitate to contact us today to learn more about our secure platform.