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Creepware. Is someone watching you?

by Brian Cody

The possessed television from Poltergeist may be the stuff of nightmares but creepware can transform your computer into something from a horror film. Imagine if your laptop was watching you, recording your every move and threatening to ruin your reputation. That’s a reality for many victims of creepware. 

Technology has made our lives much easier but it does have its downsides. Creepware is, as the name suggests, a particularly insidious type of digital snooping that lets people invade your privacy without your knowledge.

Locking your front door can keep physical threats at bay but this form of malware can expose your family to risks from within your own home. So what exactly is creepware and how can you protect yourself against it?

What is creepware?

Creepware is a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) that lets people hack into your computer or mobile device and control it from a distance. The most famous examples of this are using a device’s camera and microphone to watch and listen to victims. This type of spyware allows hackers, cybercriminals or online creeps to spy on your family or use recorded material for illegal purposes.

Different versions of creepware can let a hacker steal your personal files, monitor your online activity, download files, steal your passwords, log keywords and make your computer display onscreen messages. The thought of someone burrowing around in your personal information and turning your computer into a surveillance device is terrifying but it does happen.

Hackers could blackmail you, steal personal information or broadcast footage of you on the web. One high profile case saw a former Miss Teen USA winner and other women exposed to “sextortion” threats after a hacker threatened to publish sensitive photos taken on their webcams unless they provided him with additional adult material.

The malware is cheap and easily installed, making it a perfect weapon for everyone from voyeurs to cybercriminals and trolls. You don’t need to be a skilled hacker to give this tech a go.  

How do I protect my family from creepware?

One of the ways that creepware is downloaded is by drive-by download. This essentially means that you unknowingly download malware when you visit an infected website.

The standard warning is to avoid dubious websites or suspicious links that you receive via email or social media message. Your children may think that they understand how to protect themselves from malware but with drive-by downloads you no longer have to actively download something to get infected.

Beware of files or programs from third party sources. Illegal downloads or freeware from untrusted sources can sometimes be used by hackers to infect you with malware. Make sure that your children know that the risks of piracy go beyond getting caught. That free film could see you unknowingly becoming the star of a sinister version of The Truman Show.

A common source of malware is third party apps, which can easily expose you to creepware or other nasty infections. The latest NortonLifeLock Internet Security Threat Report found that 17% of all apps were malware in disguise – so it’s important to warn your family about the dangers of downloading apps from untrusted sources.

Another way that criminals gain access is through your webcam itself. Webcams tend to have default passwords that are set by the manufacturer so it’s an easy back door that criminals or hackers can exploit. Updating your password is an obvious way to close down this access route for hackers.

Securing your device with trusted security software is also one way to keep creepware at bay. Smartphones are an obvious target for cybercriminals as most people don’t secure their mobile devices.
Your phone is essentially a powerful pocket-sized computer that’s full of sensitive information so why wouldn’t you keep it protected?

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