What Is Spyware?

2020-07-22 - 6 min read

You might think that spyware is all about government secrets, private detectives, and action movies. In fact, it’s malicious software you don’t want in your system. As the name suggests, spyware is designed to observe your online behavior and use that knowledge for wrongdoings. Here’s what you need to know about spyware and how to protect your privacy.

What is spyware?

Spyware sits silently on your device, collecting information and sending it to hackers. It can also scan your files, install additional spyware, modify internet settings, and attract even more malware. There can be several reasons for using spyware and snooping around someone’s digital life:

  • to collect data about someone’s online activity and send it to marketers;

  • to steal credit card details, passwords, and other sensitive information;

  • to track a spouse’s behavior out of jealousy;

  • to spy on employees in order to learn about their online activities.

This malicious software can live in your system for months before you notice anything suspicious.

Types of spyware

Banking Trojans

A banking Trojan pretends to be a legitimate and harmless app or software. But once it gets on your computer or smartphone, it starts its dirty job. Hackers can create a fake bank login page and intercept your details without you having the slightest idea.

Stalkerware

Stalkerware is designed to steal GPS information, text messages, photos, contacts, browsing history, and call logs. There are plenty of easy-to-use apps that anybody with a little technical knowledge can install on the victim's device, be it a jealous boyfriend, business partner, or your employer.

Browser hijacker

A browser hijacker changes your browser settings and starts bombarding you with unwanted ads. It also spies on you in the background, collecting data about your online habits and selling it to marketers. What’s more, browser hijackers can redirect you to shady websites to trick you into downloading malware.

Keyboard loggers

Keyloggers record keystrokes to take over information such as name, address, passwords, or financial details. Keyloggers are commonly used to monitor children’s or employees’ internet activities.

Infostealers

Infostealers can monitor everything you do on your computer, steal your documents, and review your browsing history. They get their job done and disappear without a trace.

How to know if you have spyware

Spyware masks itself well and can be hard to notice. That said, we recommend looking out for the following signs:

  • you get more annoying pop-ups;

  • your browser’s homepage has changed, but you don’t remember doing that;

  • your device has become slower or crashes;

  • new icons appear on your screen;

  • you are redirected to websites you had no intention to visit.

How to remove spyware

To locate spyware on Android, iOS, macOS, or Windows, follow these recommendations:

  • Disconnect from the internet so that spyware can’t send any information to hackers;

  • Restart your device in safe mode. This will start the system without running any third-party programs;

  • Check for any suspicious programs you don’t remember installing and remove them;

  • Scan your device with antivirus software;

  • Change your passwords. We recommend using NordPass, as it allows you to create and securely store strong passwords as well as autofill online forms.

How to prevent spyware

Spyware comes in many forms: as an email attachment, a pop-up, or a link. If something looks shady, it probably is. Don’t click on anything suspicious, and if a website starts throwing pop-ups at you, leave immediately. You can add a pop-up blocker to your browser to minimize the risk.

Update your system on time

While it’s tempting to postpone updates, we recommend you against doing so. Developers constantly improve security by fixing vulnerabilities and bugs hackers are looking for. If you’re running an old version of an operating system, antivirus software, or a program, chances are that wrongdoers already know about its flaws and can use this against you.

Avoid downloading files from suspicious sources

Be careful when downloading files from the internet or using torrent services — you might end up downloading an unpleasant surprise. Hackers can attach spyware to the files, upload them as a bait, and wait patiently for you to come around. The internet is flooded with free software that is actually a way to sneak into your system.

Use antivirus software

Computers, phones, and tablets come with built-in security features. However, if you want to boost your security, we recommend installing antivirus software and carefully monitoring your device’s health.

Chad Hammond
Chad Hammond
Verified author
Chad loves traveling and technology. His global view and open-mindedness add interesting angles to various security topics. He has already traveled to over 80 countries and is not planning to stop any time soon.
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