What You Need to Know About Spyware – And How To Protect Your Devices From It

What is Spyware

Spyware is one of the oldest types of malware and continues to be one of the most dangerous. As its name implies, spyware is a certain type of software that spies on you when you’re using your computer. It’s important to be aware of the possible signs of spyware so you can recognize the problem and take action. Read on to learn more about what spyware is, what it does, and how you can protect your devices from it.

What Is Spyware?

Spyware LaptopSpyware is a type of malicious software that infects your devices, tracks your online activity, and collects your personal information without your knowledge or consent. It gathers this information in many ways, such as by capturing keystrokes, email addresses, web form data, and credit card numbers. Common signs include poor system performance, applications that often freeze, problems booting the computer, and difficulty connecting to the Internet.

There are different types of spyware, such as:

Password Stealers

This type of spyware gathers passwords from infected devices. These include passwords stored on web browsers and login information for your PC.

Banking Trojans

Spyware that records credentials from banks and other financial institutions like brokerages or digital wallets. Trojans locate security vulnerabilities in browsers and tamper with web pages and transactions without the user or institution knowing about it.


A kind of spyware that scans infected devices for information such as usernames, passwords, browser history, log files, documents, or media files. The software then transmits the information to another server or stores it on your PC where hackers can access it.


Sometimes called systems monitors, this type of spyware records your computer activity. It can track your keystrokes, the websites you visit, search history, and email correspondence. It often takes screenshots of your activity as well. Some kinds of keyloggers can also collect information from other connected devices such as printers.

How Common Is Spyware?

Spyware is an extremely common type of cyberattack, though in recent years it has declined somewhat as ransomware and cryptomining have become more widespread.

One in ten American consumers has experienced a cyberattack on their home computer, though spyware now ranks below ransomware, cryptomining, and other common forms of malware.

What Are The Risks?

There are two major risks associated with spyware. The biggest problem is that spyware steals personal information and can put you at risk for identity theft. It can access your browsing history, email accounts, and logins for online banking and shopping accounts, as well as social media accounts. This is more than enough information to steal your identity. If the spyware gets your banking or credit card information, it can use that information to make purchases in your name or sell your data to other parties.

In addition, spyware can cause significant damage to your computer and other devices. It can drain your computer’s memory and cause it to run slowly, freeze, crash, or even overheat. Spyware can also alter search engine results, change your homepage and settings, or deliver malicious websites to your browser.

How Does Spyware Infect Your Computer?

There are many different ways that spyware can infect your device. Here are some of the most common ones:

Drive-by Downloads

In a drive-by download, a website or pop-up window automatically downloads spyware onto your device. You might get a warning giving you the name of the software and requesting permission to install it, but in many cases, there is no warning at all.

Software Downloads

Some internet software downloads, particularly file-sharing applications, can also install spyware on your devices. This is most common with free versions of software you normally have to buy.

Fake Anti-Spyware Programs

In some cases, spyware is disguised as an anti-spyware program. These programs convince you that they will detect and remove spyware from your machine. After you run them, you’ll get a message that your computer is clean when in fact they have installed spyware on it. If you try to remove the program, the spyware will remain on your computer.

Spyware, like most other kinds of malware, can be sent in a link or an email attachment. Never click on an unfamiliar link or attachment or open an email from an unknown sender. Doing so could result in spyware being downloaded and installed on your computer. Clicking on malicious links can also infect your device with a worm. These worms are used to spread malicious software using the network your device is attached to.

Mobile Device Spyware

Some types of spyware target mobile devices. This type of spyware infects iPhone and Android devices when you install an app that has a malicious code. Some of these apps are legitimate but have been altered to contain malcode, others are malicious, and some have fake download links.

What Can I Do If I Detect Spyware On My Device?

Spyware can be extremely difficult to detect. Some warning signs include: an excessive number of pop-ups, your browser spontaneously redirecting you, and your browser’s home page changing. Another common sign is your computer is extremely slow to boot up, open programs, or save files.

If you suspect that there is spyware on your device, you need to remove it immediately. You’ll need to purchase a powerful cybersecurity program that has advanced spyware removal capabilities. This type of program removes spyware from your device and repairs any altered files or settings.

Once you remove the spyware, contact your bank, credit card company, and other financial institutions to warn them that your account might be compromised. In these cases, you might need to request a new bank account or credit card number. In some cases, you might need to contact law enforcement as well.

How Can I Prevent Spyware?

If you have a device that connects to the internet, there is always the risk of spyware and other kinds of malware. However, there are a number of steps you can take to decrease the risk of spyware infecting your device. Here are some ways you can help protect your devices from spyware:

Use An Anti-Spyware Program

There are many anti-spyware programs on the market that will scan your computer and detect any spyware. That said, it’s essential to make sure that you purchase an anti-spyware program from a reputable internet security provider. Sometimes spyware is disguised as anti-spyware tools, so it’s important to use a reliable provider. Once you purchase the program, be sure to update it regularly for maximum effectiveness.

Adjust Your Browser Security

Many browsers allow you to adjust your security options on a scale ranging from low to high. Find out what the options are for your particular browser. Some browsers can even act as a firewall against cookie installation and unwanted operations.

Don’t Trust Pop-Ups

Oftentimes, ads and offers that appear in pop-up windows may contain viruses or spyware. Some of these pop-ups claim that your computer has a virus, or claim to be an extension to improve your online experience. Don’t click “Agree” or “OK” to close the pop-up, always click on the red “X” instead.

Practice Internet Safety

As with other kinds of malware, spyware is often delivered in a link or attachment. Be wary of emails from unknown senders, and never click on links or attachments if you don’t know what they are.

Final Thoughts

The incidence of spyware is on the decline, though it continues to be a significant threat to companies. Spyware is particularly dangerous because it can acquire your confidential information. It can then use this data to steal your identity or incur expensive charges on your accounts.

When you use a device that connects to the internet, there is always some risk of malware. However, by taking the necessary precautions you can help protect yourself and your devices from spyware.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.