Understanding spyware is simple: it's spying software. But noticing if you have spyware on your device is anything but simple. It's sneaky by definition, running unnoticed in the background while it collects information, or gives remote access to its author.
Spyware is a little different than a computer virus, because it doesn’t self-replicate. But spyware’s ability to avoid detection while monitoring your most private information makes it one of the most dangerous types of malware. While viruses can damage your devices or data, spyware takes it one step further and can steal your personal identity and real assets.
What can spyware do? Criminal organizations use spyware to collect financial information such as online banking accounts and passwords or credit card data. Advertisers use it to figure out your online habits and serve you more relevant ads. Governments use it to collect as much information as possible on you. When they do that, it is often called “govware” or “policeware”.
How does spyware collect data?
Spyware takes on many different shapes and serves many different purposes. Among them, spyware can:
Record your keystrokes: Called keyloggers, this kind of spyware spies on everything you type and is used to collect credit card numbers, usernames and passwords, and other communications.
Track online activities: Some tracking cookies can arguably be considered spyware, in the sense that they track your movements online and report what you visit to advertisers so they can serve you more targeted information. But more nefarious forms of tracking also exist.
Take control of your computer: Some forms of Trojan spyware will make changes to your security settings to allow remote control over your device.
Slow down your device: Sometimes, the only telltale sign that you’re infected with spyware will be the parasitic way it steals processing power and internet bandwidth to communicate what it has stolen.
What types of spyware are out there?
From keyloggers to tracking cookies, spyware comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples.
- FinFisher: spyware that was designed to be used by law enforcement agencies, but has slipped into the clutches of criminals.
- GO Keyboard: an app that spied on consumers and stole countless bits of personal data. Even worse, you could download it straight from Google Play!
- Look2Me: as if spying on you wasn’t bad enough, Look2Me also made your PC open in safe mode every time you turned it on, which made it even harder to detect.
- Trojan.Zlob: as well as spying on you, Trojan.Zlob also delivered pop-up ads and messed with your PC’s controls so it would be almost impossible to use.
How do I detect and remove spyware on my computer?
If spyware only spied on what you were doing, it you’d likely never even notice it was there. “Luckily”, hackers almost always bundle spyware with other kinds of Trojans and adware, so an easy way to check for spyware is by looking for other symptoms of an infected computer:
- Slowdowns: is your device all of sudden running unusually slowly?
- Pop-ups: are you getting tons of pop-ups, even when you’re not browsing the web?
- Unexpected toolbars, search engines, or home screens: are these suddenly on your computer, but you didn’t download them?
If you spot any of these issues, there’s a good chance you’ve also got spyware on your system.
How do I remove spyware on Windows?
If you find any unusual applications on your PC, you should proceed with spyware removal. There’s no easy way to do this manually, but most advanced antivirus products like AVG AntiVirus FREE will help you remove spyware (as well as other kinds of malware!) as part of their general anti-malware tools.
How do I remove spyware on my Mac?
If you need to get rid of spyware on your Mac, you’ll find it a bit more challenging compared to PC users. While Macs do tend to have less malware created for them, if some does find its way onto the system it tends to be more stubborn. The best option is to avoid getting infected altogether, and we have a comprehensive guide that will help you do exactly that.
If you suspect you already have some spyware, your best bet is to download an anti-spyware tool for your Mac. Most strong antiviruses, like AVG AntiVirus FREE for Mac, come with anti-spyware software that will scan for and delete any spyware you have.
Is there spyware on my phone?
Spyware is not just for computers. And if you’re like most people nowadays, you probably have just as much sensitive information (if not more!) on your phone. Personal texts, online shopping information, online banking details… there’s plenty for hackers to steal via spyware. No matter if you have an Android or iPhone, you can detect, remove (and also prevent) spyware.
How do I remove spyware from my Android phone?
Can Androids even get spyware? Sadly, yes. Recently, spyware apps have made it directly onto the Google Play Store, avoiding detection twice. If you’re wondering how to detect spyware on your Android phone, the good news is that you can easily do so using an antivirus app. Our free AVG AntiVirus for Android will scan your phone or tablet for all kinds of malware and get rid of it for you.
How do I remove spyware from my iPhone?
Even though hackers traditionally targeted Android users (rather than iOS), cybercriminals are increasingly expanding to iPhone and iPad. Recently, a powerful new spyware app targeted iOS, managing to steal users’ photos, videos, and real-time location data. Yikes! If you suspect you may be at risk for spyware, you can protect yourself with a security app designed especially with iOS in mind. The free AVG Mobile Security for iOS will scan for and delete any and all malware. Our app also offers identity protection and secures your private photos.
How do I avoid spyware?
If you follow some simple best practices when you browse online, you’ll greatly reduce the chance of downloading any kind of malware, spyware included:
- Don’t trust everything online: The hacker’s favorite trick is to make a fake website, pop-up, or email (in fact, about 92% of malware comes from emails!) to try to dupe you into downloading a mysterious or misleading file. Don’t fall for it. If you aren’t 100% sure what the file is, don’t download it.
- Pay close attention: Make sure the websites you’re on are legitimate. Pay close attention to the URL to make sure nothing is misspelled, and confirm that you’re on an HTTPS site. Not only can this help you avoid malware, it could also save you from a phishing attack.
- Get an adblocker: Malvertising is when hackers infect a banner ad, which can then transmit malware onto your computer even if you don’t click on it. This can affect even large, trustworthy sites, so your best solution is simply to block all the ads.
But while these steps can reduce the risk of getting infected, nothing except a powerful antivirus will actually keep you 100% safe when you connect to the internet. AVG AntiVirus FREE will protect you from all the dangers of the internet, and doesn’t cost a cent, so there’s no reason not to use it to keep your PC, your data, and your family safe.