All You Need to Know About Spyware and How to Remove It?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Once you go online, there’s no guarantee that your right to privacy is secure. There are malicious software – malware present on the internet spying on your online activity and sniffing through your critical data. Malware that spies and infiltrates your computing device and collects your personal information, browsing pattern, internet usage habits, and other sensitive data is known as spyware. In this modern time, it is common to have your personal data shared without your knowledge to multiple third parties for successful marketing plans. Malwarebytes’ 2018’s quarterly report shows that in the first quarter of the year, business spyware detections witnessed an increment of 56%, with January bringing in over 80,000 spyware detections. With this data, spyware topped the first quarter of 2018 for scoring the maximum number of business-side malware detections. [1]

Spyware has always been a significant threat to Internet users. It can effortlessly hide behind the covers of pop-up ads or piggyback onto a legit application; this makes it difficult to detect. And after slipping inside your system, it can steal your authorization credentials, personal email addresses, credit card numbers, online data, and to capture keystrokes and screenshots. Another perturbing part of spyware is that even after its detection, there’s no easy way to get rid of it.

What Is Spyware?

Spyware is a kind of malware (a cyberattack) that stealthily collects your private data and relays it to a third party, which then utilizes it as marketing data for the branding of their products and/or services. It easily sneaks into your system with the installation of new software, especially freeware or shareware. It mainly focuses on your internet browsing habits which include your frequently visited websites and downloads. Spyware not only harms your data, but can also slow down your system’s performance a significant level.

Infected devices can range from PCs, Macs, and Android and iOS devices. Though it is believed that Windows OS is more likely to get affected among the other listed ones. [2] There are a few common ways through which you can fall prey to a spyware attack –

1. Freeware

There are times when freeware (or free software) acts as a host program to these malicious spyware programs in the form of harmful add-ons, extensions, or plugins. All the components of this freeware will appear important to you but some of them just serve as spyware and nothing more. Another bad thing about this type of malware is that it will remain on your device even after you uninstall the host program.

2. Disguise as Useful Tools to Download

Spyware can also be present in the form of useful downloads such as new download manager, a performance booster, hard disk drive cleaner, or internet accelerator. It disguises itself as a genuine looking bait to crawl into your device without getting noticed. Even, the uninstallation of this tool won’t affect the functionality of the spyware; it will continue stealing your data.

3. Security Vulnerabilities

This is one of the most common ways to get into your computing devices. Spyware can slide in your system via emails sent by unknown senders. These emails can contain links to malicious executable files which will lead you to the download of spyware. Also, in case of malicious links, there are chances that just by visiting a page or viewing a banner/ad, you will lead a way for spyware to your system. Other vulnerabilities will include accepting pop-ups without noticing/reading its primary motive. It’s important to understand that one click can offer safe passage to spyware.

4. Miscellaneous

Other than the above-listed ways, Trojans, worms, and backdoors bring in spyware as a plus one with their own malicious intent.

The primary motive of spyware classifies it in three major types –

1. Keyloggers/System Monitors

System monitors pose itself as a harmless component of a freeware which later capture your online activities. Spyware records keystrokes, frequently visited websites, chatroom dialogs, emails, and programs that run on your device.

2. Tracking Cookies

Spyware with the main objective of tracking cookies is used to gather user’s online activities which include web searches, history, and downloads. The attacker then sends this collected data to third-party, generally, for marketing purposes.

3. Trojans

It is that spyware which appears as legitimate software but mainly controlled by third parties. For an instance, an authentic looking Java or Flash Player update can act as an entry-point for spyware to enter your system. From gathering to modifying sensitive data, it can adversely affect you in terms of financial transactions to personal information.

Other common spyware includes rootkits, info stealers, web beacons, and a few others.

How to Get Rid of Spyware from Your System?

Eliminating stubborn spyware out of your system is not an easy task; it demands patience and persistence. Though, it is true that you cannot get rid of spyware programs even after uninstalling them from your system. But here are a few sure shot steps to its effective elimination.

Step 1 – Disconnect the Infected Machine from the Internet

Before you disconnect your system from the internet, make sure all the open internet browsers and applications are closed. For ethernet users, you can just remove your network cable. And all the wireless users, turn off your system’s wireless communications or simply disconnect it from your connected network.

Step 2 – Uninstall the Host Program

Most of the host programs of spyware come with an uninstaller function. Otherwise, you can also uninstall it from the list of Add/Remove Programs in the Windows Control Panel. Here, you just need to check the concerned program and click on the Remove button. After this step, it is important that you reboot your system.

Step 3 – Run an Anti-Virus Scanner

It is always good to have a modern-day antivirus scanner installed on your device. Run your antivirus scanner in safe mode. If you don’t have an antivirus, then you can look for free antivirus scanners before you start the whole process. Perform the prompted action even if it needs you to delete or clean a file or folder.

Step 4 – Use Different Suggested Tools

You will find numerous powerful spyware removal tools online. Many of them are free. Use it to get rid of the spyware efficiently.

Note: Carefully examine the authenticity of the site from where you are downloading these anti-spyware tools. They can also trick into another trap of a malicious hacker.

Step 5 – Direct Access to Issue

Sometimes, even a safe mode cannot help you to eliminate the spyware completely. In such a scenario, it is recommended to directly access the drive using a bootable CD. This will surely skip the step of loading of spyware in the background during the operation of a protective tool. Once you have successfully re-booted your system in safe mode, either use an antivirus or manually eliminate suspicious elements from your system.

Step 6 – Revive Any Remaining Damage

Ensure that the spyware won’t re-enter your system again if the system gets re-connected to the internet. For this, you can start by –

  • Resetting your browser’s start and home page
  • Checking your Trusted Sites Zone for any unfamiliar or suspicious entry

With this last step, you have successfully uninstalled the spyware from your system.

Precautions to Keep Spyware Out of Your System – Beforehand Prevention

You can take your first step towards a spyware defense strategy by keeping track of your online activities. Adapt the following practices to keep your system away from spyware –

  • Keep all your protective programs pre-installed and updated. It would be great if you can have more than one tool ready for such an incident. Let these protective tools do their work automatically, in this way, there will be no chance of you forgetting to perform this step regularly.
  • Let the auto-protection feature of these programs do its work. This step will help you to be cautious about the situation in advance than dealing with the aftermath of it.
  • Check for the authenticity of a program/application/software/download before you let it enter in your system. If you are installing any program or software as an administrator, then you are letting the spyware to harm your data to a severe level. So, it would be better to avoid permitting operations on behalf of administrator.
  • Cookies are not only useful for you, but they are one of the major targets of malicious hackers too. They contain a lot of information that one can misuse anytime. It would be much better to reduce the use of cookies.
  • Never click on any unknown link or download any unfamiliar attachment sent by an unknown sender.

It is true that spyware can harm your system but if you stay cautious of your online activity then you can surely avoid its occurrence. Your defense against spyware starts with a right attitude towards it. Stick to the above-listed basic prevention practices. It would be much better to look for such cybersecurity solutions which can offer you real-time protection. These are designed to block spyware and any kind of threat, right away. Even, features like anti-exploit technology and malicious website protection makes the delivery of spyware difficult, thus, keeping your online activities protected from spyware attack.


  1. https://www.malwarebytes.com/pdf/white-papers/CTNT-Q1-2018.pdf
  2. https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-how-to-catch-spyware-before-it-snags-you.html
Editor's Note:
Reviewed by Israel Arroyo, Founder, President and CEO at Stealth Entry Cyber Security Solutions and David Kosorok, Director, Application Security at Align Technology
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