What is spyware and how to remove it

By Jayden Andrews. March 5, 2020

Do you enjoy surfing the web? Well, who doesn’t? While there’s nothing wrong with it, we simply would like to advise you to always stay on the safe side. This is because when you go online, your privacy and security are at risk. There will be prying eyes that will always be following what you’re doing, waiting for you to make that one wrong move and give away personal information.

One of the oldest and most prevalent threats on the web today is called spyware. Although it’s relatively easy to fall prey to it, you can always do something to deal with it and prevent future attacks.

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about spyware.

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Spyware Definition

So, what is spyware?

Spyware is unwanted or malicious software that attacks a computer, stealing sensitive information and crucial data. It is a type of malware entity that gathers a victim’s personal information and sends it to third parties, advertisers, or data firms.

Though spyware has many uses, it’s been widely used in fraudulent activities, such as stealing bank and credit card information and identity theft.

Common Types of Spyware

There are four common types of spyware. Each of them uses a different tactic to track its victim.

1. Adware

This is a type of spyware that tracks a victim’s downloads and browser history. Its purpose is to check what products and services you are interested in. Once the adware has gotten the information it needs, it will display ads for related products, enticing you to make a purchase. Basically, adware is created for marketing purposes.

2. Tracking Cookies

As the name of the spyware suggests, tracking cookies track a victim’s web activities. Although they’re somewhat similar to adware, what makes this spyware different is the information it gathers. Tracking cookies collect download, history, and search information, while adware gathers data about products and services that a victim usually searches for on the web.

3. Trojans

A Trojan is a type of malware that disguises itself as legitimate software, meaning it could appear to be an Adobe Flash Player update, where in truth, it’s actually malware. Often controlled by third-parties, Trojans are commonly used to steal sensitive information, such as credit card details and Social Security numbers.

4. System Monitors

System monitors are a type of spyware that spies on everything you do on your computer. They record keystrokes, check emails and log the websites you visited. More often than not, they disguise themselves as freeware.

How Spyware Attacks Its Victim

Spyware can attack a wide range of devices, such as Android and iOS smartphones and computers running Windows or macOS. However, among all devices, Windows computers are the most vulnerable and susceptible to attacks.
Below are some ways that a Windows computer can become infected with spyware:

  • Accepting pop-up notifications without reading them first
  • Downloading apps and programs from unreliable sources
  • Opening email attachments from anonymous senders
  • Torrenting media, such as games, software, music, and movies

Signs of Spyware

Spyware can be very difficult to detect. But the good news is that even if it’s designed to be deceptive, there are actually signs that tell you that your device has been infected.
It is likely that you have a spyware entity on your computer if you see these signs:

  • Your computer seems unusually slow.
  • Random crashes happen for no reason.
  • Pop-ups show even when you’re offline.
  • Unknown browser extensions are installed.
  • Your browser’s home page has changed.
  • You always get redirected to a website you didn’t request.
  • Your computer keeps notifying you that you’re running out of hard disk space.

It is worth noting, though, that you may not always be able to detect spyware. But if you suspect that it has infected your device already, you can perform spyware removal methods or download anti-spyware tools.

How to Remove Spyware

Do you suspect that a spyware entity has infected your device? What you can do is perform a quick system scan first to clean up your computer. And then, download a spyware removal program. Once you’ve downloaded one, run a quick scan.

This should only take a few minutes. After that, spyware entities can be identified and removed.
Relax.

You don’t need to shell out all your hard-earned money for an anti-spyware tool. You can find plenty of free spyware removal tools that already offer great protection. You just need to read review sites or seek recommendations.

Now, to give you an idea about the tools that we’re talking about, we’ve listed some of the best spyware removal tools today. While most of them are free, some can be downloaded at a budget-friendly price.

 

1. Panda Free Antivirus

URL: https://www.pandasecurity.com/usa/homeusers/solutions/free-antivirus/

Compatibility: Windows, Android, macOS

Panda is one of the most efficient antivirus programs today. It promises to provide you protection while you work, browse online, or play. It advertises itself as the best antivirus for Windows.

Among its notable features are:

  • Antivirus Protection – It provides users with real-time protection against all sorts of spyware and malware entities. Use it to schedule periodic scans or when needed.
  • Panda Rescue Kit – This feature works as a PC recovery system. This is used to run an advanced scan or create a rescue USB drive to clean and boot infected computers that don’t even start.
  • USB Protection – It protects your PC by preventing malware from automatically executing its malicious intent. It also scans USB drives upon insertion.
  • Multimedia/Game Mode – Enable this to ensure your play or multimedia content streaming is undisturbed by viruses and annoying pop-ups.
  • Privacy Auditor – It checks and displays the access permissions of the apps installed on your device. This feature comes in handy if you decide to let go of and uninstall useless apps that only exist to access your personal information.
  • Optimization – This is used to optimize your computer’s battery life. It monitors the current memory usage of all installed apps and stops app processes that are interfering with your PC’s performance.
  • Location – It tracks your and your family’s devices in real time. This feature exists in case you want to locate a stolen or lost smartphone or tablet.

Panda is compatible with Windows, Android, and macOS devices. Although it can be used for free, its features are limited. To make the most of Panda, you may need to upgrade to other available plans: Essential, Advanced, Complete, and Premium.


2. AVG AntiVirus FREE

URL: https://www.avg.com/en-us/free-antivirus-download

Compatibility: Android, Windows, macOS

One of the biggest names in the cybersecurity industry is AVG AntiVirus FREE. The tool has been around for more than a decade already. Since it was launched, the developers have added a lot of features and updates, many of which can be accessed at a certain price.

AVG AntiVirus offers web protection through a dedicated Chrome extension or an independent web browser. It also allows users to perform various types of scans, such as boot-time scans for threats that activate at start-up, deep scans, USB or DVD scans, and file and folder scans.

A bonus feature of the tool is it shows warning signs for any poorly rated browser extension. This is considered a great addition because sometimes, spyware and malware disguise themselves as browser extensions.


3. Norton 360 Standard

URL: https://us.norton.com/products/norton-360-standard

Compatibility: Windows, Android, macOS, iOS

Another top player in the cybersecurity realm, Norton created Norton 360 Standard to fight all malware entities, such as spyware, ransomware, and viruses. The tool’s 100% detection and removal rate makes it stand out from its competitors.
Norton 360 Standard runs on artificial intelligence. It continually evolves, learning about new spyware threats based on the data fed by the tool’s millions of users from all over the world.
Some of the tool’s notable features are:

  • Malware scanning and removal
  • Threat detection
  • Dark web monitoring
  • Secure VPN
  • Password manager
  • Smart firewall

Although it works perfectly on smartphones, tablets, and Macs, the tool has added anti-spyware features designed for Windows devices. Norton made sure to take extra preventive measures because Windows devices are the most common targets of spyware.


4. McAfee Total Protection

URL: https://www.mcafee.com/consumer/en-ca/store/m0/catalog/mtp_521/mcafee-total-protection.html

Compatibility: Windows, Android, macOS, iOS

Do you want to protect yourself and your whole family against the latest malware, ransomware, and spyware attacks? Do you wish to secure your privacy and identity while browsing the web? Then McAfee Total Protection is the tool for you.

As advertised on the site, the tool is more than just antivirus software. It also offers its users peace of mind.
McAfee Total Protection comes with a comprehensive internet security package that aims to protect your computer and all your personal information. Its multi-faceted privacy protection feature also shreds and protects sensitive files, arming users against identity thieves. And the best of all, one single subscription is already more than enough to keep your family protected online.

Here are other features of McAfee Total Protection:

  • Virus Protection – It prevents viruses, ransomware, and malware from infecting your devices.
  • Performance Optimization – It keeps your computer running like new and reduces bandwidth usage for optimal performance.
  • Encrypted Storage – It stores sensitive files on your PC with 128-bit encryption.
  • Safe Web Browsing – It gives you clear warnings of risky sites, file downloads, and links, preventing cyberattacks before they actually happen.
  • Home Network Security – It secures your firewall, keeping hackers from gaining access to your home network.
  • Online Support – It comes with quick assistance from McAfee’s dedicated security team.
  • Multi-Device Compatibility – It is compatible with almost all types of platforms, such as Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.
  • Password Manager – It securely manages and stores your passwords in one location

5. TotalAV

URL: https://www.totalav.com

Compatibility: Windows, Android, macOS, iOS

Like McAfee Total Protection, TotalAV offers advanced protection for the whole family. This means every family member can benefit from the tool’s full range of security features.

Although it’s relatively new, this antivirus engine has earned the trust of millions of people all over the world. With its regular virus and malware definition updates and real-time antivirus protection, users of the tool can trust the digital security it offers.

TotalAV’s features include:

  • Anti-Malware – The tool’s advanced anti-malware feature protects users against different types of malware.
  • Anti-Ransomware – With TotalAV, you won’t fall victim to malicious attacks that encrypt your files. You won’t even have to pay a ransom to decrypt your files.
  • Anti-Spyware – Don’t let spyware entities financially benefit from you. Trust in this tool’s anti-spyware feature.
  • Real-Time Protection – You’ll never have to worry about downloading, installing, and executing programs and files that contain viruses again. This tool offers real-time protection, notifying you of any nefarious activities.
  • Remote Firewall – Gain access to your device’s firewall settings and easily block or unblock connection requests with this feature.
  • Device Optimization – Keep your system running at its full potential. Regardless of whether it’s a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, this tool has all the great features that can help improve your device’s performance.
  • Safe Browsing – With this tool’s VPN feature, you can benefit from a secure private browsing experience. You can unlock restricted content and make your online activities hard to track.

6. Bitdefender

URL: https://www.bitdefender.com/solutions/free.html

Compatibility: Android, macOS

Bitdefender is a renowned name in detecting and removing different malware types, including spyware. In the event that spyware sneaks into a system, the software is equipped with all necessary defenses, such as behavior monitor and ransomware remediation, phishing detection, Safe Pay, webcam filter, anti-tracking, Safe Files, and VPN.

According to expert reviews, Bitdefender is great software for protecting the financial information of users, thanks to its Safe Pay feature that keeps a user’s bank and credit card information safe from cybercriminals. So, if you always bank online, this is the best software to use.

Other security features of Bitdefender include:

  • Microphone Monitor – It prevents spyware and malware applications from eavesdropping on your emails and conversations.
  • Multi-Layer Ransomware Protection – It provides advanced defense against ransomware attacks.
  • Password Manager – It keeps payment information and passwords safe in a secure vault.

7. Malwarebytes

URL: https://www.malwarebytes.com/for-home

Compatibility: Windows, Android, macOS, iOS

Back then, Malwarebytes was just a dedicated spyware tool. Eventually, it evolved into world-class anti-spyware software that provides protection against a wide range of threats.
Unlike other antiviruses today, Malwarebytes does not really rely on a list of spyware definitions.

What it does is it monitors the behavior of installed applications and files. If it notices that an application is acting suspiciously or accessing system files that it’s not supposed to use, then it takes immediate action, getting rid of the threat and securing your personal information.

Though the tool does not have a VPN or a firewall feature, it is still considered one of the best anti-spyware tools because of its strong malware detection and extremely easy-to-use interface.


8. Avira Antivirus Pro

URL: https://www.avira.com/en/free-security

Compatibility: Windows, Android, macOS,iOS

Avira Antivirus Pro has made it to this list of anti-spyware tools not only because of the real-time protection it offers against malware and spyware but also because of its ability to detect keyloggers, a type of spyware that tracks and records whatever you type, including private conversations, bank details, passwords, and credit card information.

Other great features of Avira Antivirus Pro include:

  • Ad Blocker – It prevents annoying ads from popping up at random while browsing.
  • Safe Browser – It protects users while browsing, notifying them of phishing and fraudulent sites being opened.
  • PUA Shield – It detects any harmful software or threat that appears legitimate.

Downloaded by millions of users, this tool claims not to sell user data. It does not even share it with third parties, such as advertising networks and government agencies.


9. Adaware Antivirus Total

URL: https://www.adaware.com/antivirus-total

Compatibility: Windows 10

Another powerful anti-spyware tool, Adaware Antivirus Total is an all-in-one protection suite that blocks malware, enhances a computer’s security, and gets rid of viruses. Although it was initially developed as a program that blocks web trackers and ads, it now offers protection against ransomware and viruses.

As a pioneer in anti-spyware and privacy protection, the tool has since been receiving awards. Today, the tool is highly regarded as one of the best and most stable anti-malware programs on the market.

One of the tool’s most popular features is Digital Lock. It prevents spyware from stealing private information by encrypting files with military-grade 256-bit AES encryption and applying multiple encryption levels to sensitive documents.

Aside from Digital Lock, Adaware also offers email protection, parental controls, and web protection.


10. SUPERAntiSpyware

URL: https://www.superantispyware.com/free-edition.html

Compatibility: Windows

Want to protect your PC from malicious threats like Trojans, spyware, malware, and more? Consider installing SUPERAntiSpyware.

This tool can effectively detect and remove malicious threats, not only malware and Trojans but also worms, hijackers, rootkits, parasites, keyloggers, and more. It also protects your files from hackers and repairs any damage it detects on your computer, such as corrupted registry entries and broken internet connections.

What sets this tool apart from its competitors is its advanced detection and removal features that include:

  • Proprietary Definitions Database and Daily Updates – This tool is backed by a dedicated threat research team that scours the web daily and analyzes thousands of possible threats. According to the site, SUPERAntiSpyware’s database is updated 2 to 4 times daily.
  • Multi-Dimensional Scanning – The tool can detect an existing threat and evaluate its characteristics and code patterns to identify future potential threats.
  • Process Interrogation Technology – This unique technology can detect hard-to-find threats that are often missed by ordinary anti-spyware applications.

How to Protect Your Device from Spyware

Of course, the best way to protect your computer from spyware attacks and infection is by downloading anti-spyware tools and programs. They will scan your files and data for any signs of threats and prevent spyware entities from being downloaded in the first place.
Aside from using anti-spyware programs, here are other ways to protect your computer from threats on the web:

1. Use a VPN

A VPN may not prevent spyware from being downloaded onto your computer, but it can hide your real location and keep your online activities from being monitored and tracked. In some cases, VPNs also have ad-blocking and anti-malware features that you can take advantage of.

2. Avoid opening emails from unknown senders

Unsolicited emails are among the most common ways to spread malware entities. To avoid downloading spyware, do not open emails, especially those that contain attachments, from suspicious senders.

3. Use a secure web browser

In case you didn’t know, there are other web browsers out there aside from Google Chrome and Safari. Internet Explorer is one. However, the latter option is known to be vulnerable to cyber threats like spyware. As much as possible, avoid using insecure web browsers to ensure browsing security.

4. Download files from reputable sources

If you are downloading software, applications, or files, make sure they’re from secure and trusted sources. This preventive measure goes a long way toward keeping you from downloading spyware by accident.

5. Never click on suspicious pop-ups and links

Often, clicking on a pop-up ad is more than enough to grant spyware access to your computer. To make sure you are not clicking on anything suspicious, hover your mouse over the link first. And then, check the URL where it’ll be taking you. If it’s really an ad that you are interested in, make sure it will take you to the product’s or service’s legitimate website.

Conclusion

Spyware nowadays is becoming more and more difficult to detect. However, if you practice responsible and secure online browsing, you should be safe. A good start would be using reliable spyware removal tools and installing anti-malware software on your computer. When torrenting, connect to a fast and efficient VPN service. As long as you keep these recommendations in mind, then spyware won’t stand a chance.

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