All about spyware.
When you go online, don't assume that your privacy is secure. Prying eyes
often follow your activity-and your personal information with a pervasive
form of malicious software called spyware. In fact, it's one of the oldest
and most widespread threats on the Internet, secretly infecting your
computer without permission in order to initiate a variety of illegal
activities. It's easy to fall prey to and can be hard to get rid of,
especially since you're most likely not even aware of it. But relax; we've
got your back with all you need to know about what spyware is, how you get
it, what it tries to do to you, how to deal with it, and what to do to avoid
future spyware attacks.
What is spyware?
Although it sounds like a James Bond gadget, it’s actually a generic term
for malicious software that infects your PC or mobile device and gathers
information about you, your browsing and Internet usage habits, as well as
other data. No big surprise—spyware is sneaky, usually finding its way onto
your computer without your knowledge or permission, attaching itself to your
operating system and maintaining a presence on your PC. You might have even
inadvertently given permission for the spyware to install itself when you
agreed to the terms and conditions of a seemingly legitimate program you
downloaded without reading the fine print.
But no matter how spyware invades your PC, it runs quietly in the
background, collecting information or monitoring your activities in order to
trigger malicious activities related to your computer and how you use it.
That includes capturing keystrokes, screen shots, authentication
credentials, personal email addresses, web form data, Internet usage
information and other personal information, such as credit card numbers.
And even if you discover its unwelcome presence on your system, it does not
come with an easy uninstall feature.
How do I get spyware?
Spyware can infect your system in the same ways that any other malware does,
by means of a Trojan, a virus, worm, exploit, and other types of malware.
Here are a few of spyware’s main techniques to infect your PC or mobile
Security vulnerabilities. Here’s a top-of-the-list no-no:
clicking on an unfamiliar link or attachment in an email, which either runs
an executable attachment or links to a website program that downloads and
runs (“executes”) a program. Even worse, it’s even possible that just
visiting a malicious website and viewing a page and/or banner ad will result
in a drive-by download, or clicking some option in a deceptive pop-up window
can trigger an infection. Even trading software or documents with friends
may result in the stealthy delivery of a spyware program hidden within. That
includes executable programs, music files, and documents. All it takes is
one bad click.
Misleading marketing. Spyware authors love to present their
spyware programs as useful tools to download. It might be an Internet
accelerator, new download manager, hard disk drive cleaner, or an
alternative web search service. Beware this kind of “bait,” because
installing it can result in inadvertent spyware infection. And even if you
eventually uninstall the “useful” tool that initially introduced the
infection, the spyware remains behind and continues to function.
Software bundles. Who doesn’t love free software (freeware)?
except when it’s a host program that conceals a malicious add-on, extension,
or plugin. They may look like necessary components, but they are nonetheless
spyware, which, again, remains even if you uninstall the host application.
Misc. Trojans, worms, and backdoors often distribute spyware
in addition to their primary malicious intent.
Mobile device spyware. Mobile spyware has been around since
mobile devices became mainstream. Since mobile devices are small and users
can’t see activity, these behaviours can run behind the scenes. Both Mac and
Android devices become infected when you install an app with malicious code.
These apps include legitimate apps recompiled with malcode, straight up
malicious apps with a fake name, and apps with fake download links. Apps can
also be secretly installed onto devices by abusers who want to stalk
Types of spyware
In most of the cases, the functionality of any spyware threat depends on the
intentions of its authors. For example, some typical functions designed into
spyware include the following:
Password stealers are applications designed to harvest
passwords from infected computers. The types of collected passwords may
include stored credentials from web browsers, system login credentials, and
sundry critical passwords. These passwords may be kept in a location of the
attackers’ choosing on the infected machine, or may be transmitted to a
remote server for retrieval.
Banking Trojans are applications designed to harvest
credentials from financial institutions. They take advantage of
vulnerabilities in browser security to modify web pages, modify transaction
content, or insert additional transactions, all in a completely covert
fashion invisible to both the user and host web application. Banking Trojans
may target a variety of financial institutions, including banks, brokerages,
online financial portals, or digital wallets. They might also transmit
collected information to remote servers for retrieval.
Infostealers are applications that scan infected computers and
seek out a variety of information, including usernames, passwords, email
addresses, browser history, log files, system information, documents,
spreadsheets, or other media files. Like banking Trojans, Infostealers may
exploit browser security vulnerabilities to collect personal information in
online services and forums, then transmit the information to a remote server
or store it on your PC locally for retrieval.
Keyloggers, also referred to as system monitors, are
applications designed to capture computer activity, including keystrokes,
websites visited, search history, email discussions, chatroom dialogue, and
system credentials. They typically collect screenshots of the current window
at scheduled intervals. Keyloggers may also collect functionality, allowing
for stealthy capture and transmission of images and audio/video from any
connected devices. They might even allow attackers to collect documents that
are printed on connected printers, which can then be transmitted to a remote
server, or stored locally for retrieval.
references to the term “spyware” date back to late 1996, when it appeared in
an industry article. By 1999, it was used in an industry press release,
described as we define it today. The term was an instant hit in the mass
media and among its audiences. Soon after, in June 2000, the first anti-spyware
application was released.
In October 2004, America Online and the National Cyber-Security Alliance
performed a survey. The result was startling. About 80% of all Internet
users have their system affected by spyware, about 93% of spyware components
are present in each of the computers and 89% of the computer users were
unaware of their existence. Out of the affected parties, almost all, about
95%, confessed that they never granted permission to install them.
Spyware authors have historically concentrated on the Windows platform
because of its large user base when compared to the Mac. However, the
industry has seen a big jump in Mac malware in 2017, the majority of which
is spyware. Although spyware authored for the Mac has similar behaviours as
the Windows variety, most of the Mac spyware attacks are either password
stealers or general-purpose backdoors. In the latter category, the spyware’s
malicious intent includes remote code execution, keylogging, screen
captures, arbitrary file uploads and downloads, password phishing, and so
The industry has seen a big jump in Mac malware in 2017, the majority of
which is spyware. In addition to malicious spyware, there's also so-called
"legitimate" spyware for Macs. This software is actually sold by a real
company, from a real website, usually with the stated goal of monitoring
children or employees. Of course, such software is a two-edged sword, as
it’s very often misused, providing the average user with a way of accessing
spyware capabilities without needing any special knowledge.
Mobile spyware hides undetected in the background (creating no shortcut
icon) on a mobile device and steals information such as incoming/outgoing
SMS messages, incoming/outgoing call logs, contact lists, emails, browser
history, and photos. Mobile spyware can also potentially log your
keystrokes, record anything within the distance of your device’s microphone,
secretly take pictures in the background, and track your device’s location
using GPS. In some cases, spyware apps can even control devices via commands
sent by SMS messages and/or remote servers. The spyware can send your stolen
information via data transfer to a remote server or through email.
Also, it's not just consumers that mobile spyware criminals target. If you
use your smartphone or tablet in the workplace, hackers can turn their
attack to your employer organization through vulnerabilities in mobile
devices. Moreover, your corporation’s incident response team may not detect
breaches that originate through a mobile device.
Spyware breaches on smartphones commonly occur in three ways:
Unsecured free wi-fi, which is common in public places such as
airports and cafes. If you log onto an unsecured network, the bad
guys can see everything you do while connected. Pay attention to warning
messages your device may give you, especially if it indicates that the
server identity cannot be verified. Protect yourself by avoiding such
Operating system (OS) flaws, which open up vulnerabilities
that could let attackers infect a mobile device. Smartphone manufacturers
frequently release OS updates to protect users, which is why you should
install updates as soon as they are available (and before hackers try to
infect out-of-date devices).
Malicious apps, which hide in seemingly legitimate
applications, especially when they are downloaded from websites or messages
instead of an app store. Here it’s important to look at the warning messages
when installing applications, especially if they seek permission to access
your email or other personal information. Bottom line: It’s best to stick to
trusted sources for mobile apps and avoid any third-party apps.
Who do spyware authors target?
Unlike some other types of malware, spyware authors do not really target
specific groups or people. Instead, most spyware attacks cast a wide net to
collect as many potential victims as possible. And that makes everyone a
spyware target, as even the slightest bit of information might find a buyer.
For instance, spammers will buy email addresses and passwords in order to
support malicious spam or other forms of impersonation. Spyware attacks on
financial information can drain bank accounts or can support other forms of
fraud using legitimate bank accounts.
Information obtained through stolen documents, pictures, video, or other
digital items can even be used for extortion purposes, so, at the end of the
day, no one is immune from spyware attacks, and attackers usually care
little about whom they are infecting, as opposed to what they are after.
What do I do if I get infected?
If your spyware infection is working as designed, it will be invisible
unless you’re technically savvy enough to know exactly where to look. You
could be infected and never know. But if you suspect spyware, the first
order of business is to make sure your system has been cleaned of any
infection so that new passwords are not compromised. Get yourself a robust
cybersecurity program with a reputation for aggressive spyware removal
technology. Aggressive spyware removal thoroughly cleans up spyware
artifacts and repairs altered files/settings.
How do I protect myself from spyware?
The best defence against spyware, as with most malware, starts with your
behaviour. Follow these basics of good cyber self-defence:
Don’t open emails from unknown senders.
Don’t download files unless they come from a trusted source.
Mouse-over links before clicking on them and make sure you’re being sent to
the right webpage.
But as people have got smarter about cyber self-defence, hackers have turned
to more sophisticated spyware delivery methods, so installing a reputable
cybersecurity program is necessary to counter advanced spyware.
Look for cybersecurity that includes real-time protection. Real-time
protection automatically blocks spyware and other threats before they can
activate on your computer. Some traditional cybersecurity or antivirus
products rely heavily on signature-based technology—these products can be
easily circumvented, especially by new threats.
You should also look out for features that block the delivery of spyware
itself on your machine, such as anti-exploit technology and malicious
website protection, which blocks websites that host spyware. The
premium version of Malwarebytes has a solid reputation for spyware
protection but there are othes. Digital life comes with ubiquitous dangers
in the daily online landscape. Fortunately, there are straightforward and
effective ways to protect yourself. Between a cybersecurity suite and common
sense precautions, you should be able to keep every machine you use free
from spyware invasions and their malicious intent.
Format your Microsoft Word documents with
Do you sometimes struggle to format your Word documents a certain way? Maybe
you’re trying to create a resume or a report or a brochure but are having
trouble with the design. Well, here comes Word to your rescue. The software
offers one key feature that can help you in your goal, namely templates.
Templates give your documents a certain look and layout right from the
start. By using a preformatted template, all you need do is add your text.
Let’s check out templates to see how they can enhance your documents.
Although these tips relate to Word 2016, they also apply to the past few
versions of Word.
The purpose of a template is to provide you with the necessary layout and
design so you can more quickly and easily create a specific type of
document. Word comes with several templates, including ones for resumes,
cover letters, blog posts, reports, flyers, brochures, and thank-you cards.
Each template contains certain design and layout elements already created.
You can leave the existing elements in place or tweak them to your own
preferences. You then just add your text and other content to the document.
You can access templates one of two ways depending on how Word is
configured. If Word is set to show the Start screen when it launches, the
page of template thumbnail images automatically appears. If you set Word to
bypass the Start screen, (If you want, we’ll show you how to do this later)
then click on the File menu and select New to view the list of templates.
You’ll find a few basic templates to get you started. But what if you don’t
see the template you need? You can conjure up more from Microsoft’s online
collection. Click on one of the categories at the top, such as Business,
Industry, Personal, or Education.
You can also hunt for a specific template by typing a key word or phrase in
the field to “Search for online templates.” In return, the list refreshes
based on your selection or search phrase. When you find a template you like,
click on it to preview it and then click on the Create button to open it.
A typical template may contain tables or columns to organize your text,
images to flavour your document and placeholders for inserting your text.
You can change the built-in layout elements but the trick is to find a
template that requires little or no modification so all you have to do is
add your text. If you need to edit any existing elements, though, you can do
that as you normally would in Word. We’ll explain how to do that, but for
now let’s assume you want to keep all the design and layout elements just as
If you’re fine with the layout of the template, your job now is to add the
text. Click or double-click on each piece of placeholder text and type the
replacement text. As you type, the placeholder text should disappear. After
you’ve added your text, save the document, and you’re done.
Okay, now let’s say you want to change some of the design and layout
elements in a template. In some cases, the task is relatively simple. For
example, to replace an image, right-click on it and choose the command to
Change image from the popup menu. To alter the properties of a table,
right-click anywhere in the table and choose the appropriate table command
from the menu.
However, you may bump into trouble trying to edit the placeholder text
fields as they’re likely constrained by
content controls, which restrict what you can do with the content. How
can you tell if a placeholder field has a content control? Right-click on
the placeholder. If you see a command to “Remove Content Control” in the
popup menu, then that’s the tipoff.
The process for changing the text or other properties in such controls are
involved, but here are the steps. You first need to enable the Developer
toolbar. To do this, click on File, then click on Options, and then click on
Customize Ribbon. From the “Customize the Ribbon and keyboard shortcuts”
window, click on the checkmark for Developer in the right sub window. Then
click OK to close the Customize Ribbon window. You’ll now see a new tab for
Developer. Click on that tab to display the Developer ribbon. Then click on
the Design Mode icon on the Developer ribbon. Your document switches to
design mode so you can now change any of the placeholder items that have
You can also modify the properties for a content control. To do this, click
on a placeholder item and then click on Properties from the Developer
ribbon. From the Properties window, you can change the title, tag, colour,
and other attributes for the item you selected. When done, click on the
Design Mode button to switch back to normal view. Add your text and save
There’s more you can do with templates. You can modify an existing template
and then save it as a new template. To do this, open an existing template
and alter the design elements, such as the images, tables, and placeholder
text. Now when you want to save it, click on the File menu and then click on
Save as. Name your template. In the Save field, change the format from Word
document to Word template. Then click the Save button. By default, Word
saves your template in your Documents folder in a subfolder called Custom
Another option is to create a template from scratch using tables, images,
placeholder text, and other design elements. But you may find it easier to
modify an existing template. Either way, if you want to use your new
template to create a document, make sure you’re at the Startup page showing
the built-in templates. Then click on the link for PERSONAL. Word then
displays any templates stored in your Custom Office Templates folder.
Finally, you can share your customized templates with other people so they
can use them to create their own documents. One way to do that is to save
your template on OneDrive. From there, you can share the template with
others by emailing them a link or generating a link that you can send to
Tips for using Word.
If you use Microsoft Word as your core application for creating and editing
documents, you may find that performing certain tasks takes too long or is
too awkward. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to enhance Word to
make it faster, more powerful, and more efficient. Let’s look at several
ways of refining your daily experience in Microsoft Word 2016.
Tweak the Readability Setting in Word
This is a good feature to use when working with technical documents, to
check them for how well they read. The Readability function is a step above
the normal checking you get with Word.
To enable it, go to File: Options: Proofing and under the heading When
correcting spelling and grammar in Word, enable the checkbox beside Show
Readability Statistics and click on OK. Next, go to the Reviews tab and
click on the Spelling and Grammar icon on the left. Potential errors in your
document will show up in a pane on the right side of your document.
Web Within Word.
You can conduct searches and look up information without having to switch
applications. To do so, click the References tab then click on Researcher.
This opens a pane on the right side of your document and you can do
searches for relevant topics. When you do a search, it will open a list of
topics, click on one and it will fill the entire screen.
Some people may hate the Ribbon, but I find it a handy way to access
frequently used features, especially since you can add your own commands to
it. The ribbon is the “blue bit” across the top of the page and contains
tabs such as Home, Insert, Design, Layout etc.
To tweak the Ribbon, right-click on the Quick Access Tool-bar (this is above
the ribbon and contains small icons) until you see its popup menu. From the
menu, click on the command to Customize the Ribbon. On the right side of the
Word Options window are all the Ribbon tabs; on the left side are all
available commands in Word. Click on the tab that you wish to customize and
then click on the area where you wish to place your new Ribbon tab. Click on
the New Group button at the bottom of the right pane. Click Rename to name
the group and choose an icon if you wish. Then from the left
pane, click on a command you want to add to the new tab and click Add. Do
that for each command you wish to add. When you’re done, click OK. Back in
Word, click on the Ribbon that you customized and you’ll see your new tab
group with the commands you added.
Customize the Quick Access Toolbar
The Quick Access Toolbar rests at the top of your Word screen, just above
the Ribbon. You can access existing commands from the toolbar and add new
ones. As one example, I’ve added Table which will allow me to add a table
anywhere in a Word doc. To add to it, right-click on the Quick Access
Toolbar, from the popup menu, click on the command to Customize Quick Access
Toolbar. The Word Options window appears and points to the Quick Access
Toolbar. By default, the left pane displays popular commands that you can
add to the toolbar, but you can change that view. Click on the field that
says: Popular Commands. You can change the view to Commands not in the
Ribbon, All Commands, Macros, and more.
Use Styles and Themes.
Styles and themes are two great ways to quickly format text and other
content in Word. You can use Word’s built-in styles or create and apply your
own. You can use styles on a single word or a whole paragraph. If you want
to format an entire document, then themes are the way to go as they can
alter all parts of your document. Click on the Home tab and by default some
of the built-in paragraph styles appear on the toolbar via a Style Gallery.
Hover your mouse over one of the Style icons, and you’ll see a preview of
how the style would change your current paragraph.
Top Add-Ins for Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word packs a lot of features and functionality into one single
application. But there’s always room for more. Perhaps you wish Word
included a built-in dictation feature that converted your speech into text.
Or maybe you’d like a Word feature that reads your documents aloud to you.
Or perhaps you’d like a built-in translator that can translate your text
from one language to another. Well, Word may not include these items, but
you can tap into them by installing an add-in. Add-ins provide greater
functionality and flexibility to an Office application, so you can do so
much more with the program.
You’ll find an array of Word add-ins through Microsoft’s online
Office Store, but here are some of the top and most interesting add-ins
to give you a head start.
Dicate is an add-in that lets you dictate your
documents directly into Word;
TextAloud is an add-in that reads your text
aloud to you;
Read My Document is another add-in that
reads your text to you;
Translator is an add-in that can translate
text in your document between different languages;
Collins Dictionary is an add-in that
offers a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a translator with audio pronunciation;
Wikipedia is an add-in that lets you access
the online encyclopedia site without leaving Word.
Windows 10, 8.1, and 7 already come with built-in speech recognition and
dictation. But now there’s a new kid on the block. A Microsoft Garage
project, Dictate is a free add-in designed for Word, PowerPoint, and
Outlook. Tapping into the technology behind Cortana, Dictate uses speech
recognition to convert your words into text. After installing this add-in,
launch Word and you’ll see a new menu called Dictation. Click on that menu
to display the Dictation toolbar.
Click on the Start button in the Dictate toolbar and begin speaking. As you
dictate, you can see the text as interpreted by the Dictate add-in appear in
the Response field next to the Start button. You can speak punctuation marks
and other non-alphanumeric items, such as periods, commas, and quotes. You
can say “new line” or “new paragraph” to move to a new line or paragraph.
The add-in supports 29 spoken languages and can handle real-time translation
to 30 languages, so you can speak your text in one language and have it
converted into the text of a different language. Initially you’ll find that
Dictate will get a few words wrong but the more you use it and it gets used
to your voice, you’ll find it is pretty good.
Windows 8.1 and 10 have their own Speech Recognition feature which you
access from the search panel. Just type Speech Recognition – it does work
but Dictate is better.
This App is very handy wnen you want to proofread or edit your documents.
TextAloud reads your text aloud to you, so you can listen for any mistakes
and hear how your documents sound. After you install TextAloud, open Word
and click on the new TextAloud menu. From the TextAloud toolbar, you can opt
to hear your entire document, the part starting from the cursor, or only
selected text. You can pause, stop, and resume the speaking of your
document. You can also alter the speed at which the voice speaks.
TextAloud isn’t free. The software by itself costs $29.95. If you want more
natural sounding voices, you can add two AT&T Natural Voices for an
additional $25. But if you need a reliable tool to help you listen to and
verbally proofread your documents, TextAloud is worth the price.
Read My Document.
If you want a no-frills but free add-in that can read your documents then
download “Read my Document.” Add Read My Document to Word. You have to trust
the add-in and follow a few more steps. You then control it from the right
pane and can access it by clicking on the Insert menu and selecting My Apps
from the Add-ins button. Select the text you wish to hear or select the
entire document and then click on the Read selected text button. You can
pause or play the reading. The voice used by Read My Documents doesn’t quite
have the smoothness of the AT&T Natural Voices but it’s not bad. It has a
certain accent to it that makes it pleasing to the ear. You can’t switch
voices or control the speech as you can with TextAloud. But for a free
program, Read My Document is quite effective.
How to Recover a Lost Word Document
Uh, oh. That Word document you spent the past few hours writing has
mysteriously vanished. Do you have to start it from scratch? Not
necessarily. Your Word documents can sometimes either disappear completely
or just lose the latest changes. Those scenarios can occur if a document
crashes or freezes or just doesn’t save properly.
So how can you find the document? You have a few options. You can scour the
Recycle Bin. Depending on your settings in Word, you may be able to dig up a
backup or an AutoRecovered version of your document. If those searches come
up empty, you can look for temp files and files with the tilde (~)
character. Let’s check out the different ways to recover a lost Word
Let’s start by assuming that you’d been working on a document and now can no
longer find it, or maybe you’ve opened your document only to discover that
none of your recent changes appear. You’ve been saving it regularly or
perhaps you neglected to save it at all.
Open File Explorer and look in the default document location and other
locations throughout your hard drive for the file. If you use a file backup
service, such as OneDrive, search your online storage as well as any synced
computers for the file. Don’t forget to look in the OneDrive Recycle bin. If
you run Windows 10 or 8.1 and have enabled File History, check the location
of your file backups for the missing document. Still coming up empty? Okay,
let’s move on.
The next spot to look is the Windows Recycle Bin. Open the Bin from your
desktop and search for the document. If the Bin opens in icon view, click on
the View menu and change the view to Details. You can now sort the list of
deleted items by name, location, date deleted, or date modified.
You can also run a search for the document by specifying its filename or at
least its extension, e.g., *.doc or *.docx. If you find the file, great.
Just right-click on it and click on Restore to bring it back to life. If
not, let’s go to the next step.
If you configured Word to always save a backup copy of your documents, you
may be able to recover the backup file. To check this setting, click on the
File menu and select Options. At the Word Options window, click on Advanced.
Scroll down to the Save section and make sure the option to Always create
backup copy is checked.
If the option is turned off, then check it to avoid trouble in the future.
If it is checked, then open File Explorer and navigate to the default file
location for your Word documents. Look for files with a .wbk extension by
specifying *.wbk in the Search field. If a backup of the file exists, it
will pop up with the words Backup of at the beginning of the filename. Open
that file, and you should be in business. If not, let’s try the next step.
By default, Word saves backups of your current document into an AutoRecover
location. This even includes documents that you neglected to save on your
own. To confirm the location, click on the File menu and select Options . At
the Word Options window, click on Save. In the Save documents section, you
should see an entry for AutoRecover with the interval for saving a document
and the location in which the document is saved. Select and copy the path
for the AutoRecover file location.
There are two locations that could house a lost or unsaved document. Close
the Word Options window. Click on the File menu and (in Word 2016 or 2013)
click on the Manage Document button and then select Recover Unsaved
Documents. In the Open window look for any files with an ASD extension. Open
any of those files with Microsoft Word to see if your lost document appears.
If not, close Word. Open File Explorer and paste the path for the
AutoRecover file location in the address field. Search through the different
folders in that location for the missing document. Again, look for any
documents with an ASD extension and open them with Microsoft Word.
If you’re still coming up empty, you can search for temporary files in the
hopes that one of them might be your missing document. This is the way I
managed to find the document that had lost all my recent changes. Open File
Explorer. Select your primary drive and include the entire drive in the
search to cover all locations. Change the view to Details so you can sort
the files. In the search field, type *.tmp. After all the file results
appear, click on the Date Modified header to sort the files by date,
starting with the most recent ones first.
Assuming you started work on the document today, limit yourself to checking
just files with today’s date. You can also bypass any files with a 0KB size.
Then open each qualifying file with Microsoft Word to see if you recover
your lost document. If not, then run another search, this time specifying
~*.* as the search parameter. If you still can’t find the file, you may want
to try a
file recovery tool, such as Recuva. Such programs can dig deep to hunt
down files you may not be able to find otherwise.
Losing an important document that you slaved over for hours can be
frustrating. But by following these steps, hopefully you’ll be able to
recover such a document the next time it goes missing.