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A cyber spy is an individual who makes use of modern computer technology to secure various types of information, without the consent of the owner of that information. In some cases, the cyber spying takes place as a means of monitoring the online movements of an individual as he or she engages in various online activities, including browsing and sending email. At other times, the cyber spy is engaged in obtaining proprietary information from governments or businesses for the purpose of selling the data to the highest bidder. Cyber spying can be conducted locally, or be managed from some remote location by utilizing the right combination of equipment and software applications.
One of the more common examples of the cyber spy is an entity that creates and releases different types of tracking software. The software may be associated with a web site, or distributed through the use of email. With this application, the idea is usually to track user movements online, thus providing the spy with data about the likes and dislikes of the user. Any data gathered can then be used to automatically select email advertisements that the system considers appropriate for the user, and forwards them to the email address that the software associates with the user.
Other cyber spy activities are not so innocuous. Malicious software, especially computer viruses, can also be transmitted via web sites and through email. With email, the virus if often distributed as part of an attachment to the email itself. When the user downloads the attachment, the virus infects the hard drive, and begins to collect data. Viruses are also used to disable entire networks, often by rendering workstations inoperative. In like manner, viruses and spyware that is automatically downloaded during a visit to a web site will take advantage of any type of computer insecurity as the recipient’s end, and find a way to discreetly place the virus in files that the user is highly unlikely to access.
The increased cyber spy activity in recent years has made the need to utilize security software on all networks, including home networks and even stand-alone devices used to connect to the Internet. Companies often utilize several resources as a means of keeping their networks secure, including anti-virus protection cached on the hard drive of all computers, firewalls to filter inbound and outbound transmissions, and even security software on servers and other equipment that are included in the network architecture. Today, it is not uncommon for providers of email services to also utilize antivirus software to scan inbound messages, and thus protect both the supplier network and the individual user.
Typically, some sort of financial gain is the motivation for the cyber spy to create and distribute various forms of spyware and malware. Once data is gathered, it can be resold to competitors or anyone else who has an interest in seeing a company or government undermined. The spy may also use malware to disable or corrupt a network, an action that may give a competitor a decided advantage for a short period of time. However, not all spies are interested in money. For some, the motivation to function as a cyber spy has to do with seeking retribution for a real or imagined injustice, or simply to pit the skills of the spy against any system protections that the target may have in place.