What is spyware and how to remove it

Spyware is malware that spies on you. This article will explain what you need to know about spyware, including spyware removal and prevention, what it does, and how it gets in.


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What does spyware do

Spyware is installed on a device to collect information about computer users without their knowledge. Though it should be mentioned that some spyware warn users about this data collection in User Agreements, knowing full well that users do not read them.

Generally, spyware collects the following information about the user: web browsing habits, email addresses, communication program data. It can also send users’ documents to third-parties. In addition to collecting information about users, spyware can also change computer configurations, change homepage, redirect users to malicious pages, etc.

The most worrying spyware feature is keystroke logging. It can record important information like passwords and then send all of it to third-parties (cyber crooks).

Major threats from spyware:

  • Personal data theft;
  • Identity theft;
  • Personal information transfer to third parties;
  • Computer configuration changes or additional malicious software installation.


How does spyware get into a computer

Spyware can enter a computer just like any other malicious software, but it usually is installed by users themselves, without them knowing it’s spyware.

Random download. Users might randomly download spyware when they’re browsing the web. A pop-up may request that the user download the offered program. On rare occasions, the spyware may download without the user even noticing.

Software bundles. Free programs can often come with additional items attached to it. Those items are usually unnecessary and useless programs, like spyware, browser hijackers and adware. If the user does not closely follow the freeware installation process, he/she may end up missing something being attached.

Browser plugins or plug-ins. Browser add-ons or plugins, such as additional toolbars, search boxes, etc., are not always useful and necessary. Often, such attachments do not have any function at all, except for data collection and redirecting users to certain websites to generate traffic.

Bogus antivirus programs. Spyware is occasionally disguised as an anti-virus program. These fake anti-virus programs not only collect information but also try to get users to pay money for supposed full versions of those anti-virus programs.

Signs of spyware:

  • Annoying pop-up windows, even when the browser is not open;
  • Additional toolbars and components, which seem to have appeared without users installing them;
  • Computer starts lagging and the internet does not work;
  • Changed browser settings;
  • Browser homepage and search engine cannot be changed by the user.


Spyware prevention

  • Use antivirus. Anti-virus will detect and block spyware before it can run;
  • Update antivirus databases. Antivirus vendors release updates almost every day to protect users from new malware;
  • Update operating system and software. Operating system vendors release security patches and service packs for their products. Those updates need to be installed regularly, as otherwise, malware may use unpatched security vulnerabilities to get in. Installing software updates is also important, as unpatched programs may provide a pathway for malware to enter. It’s important to update even when software is not frequently used;
  • Enable automatic updates. Operating system and software updates can be installed automatically, if automatic updates are enabled. This will save time and ensure that all updates are installed;
  • Disable unwanted browser plugins. More browser plugins and additional programs increase the possibility of an unpatched vulnerability. Review the list of such components and remove the unused ones;
  • Use a firewall. A correctly configured firewall can prevent hackers from infiltrating the system.


How to remove spyware

Common spyware is not difficult to remove. It can be uninstalled manually but this method is only recommended for users who know what they are doing. Most anti-spyware software will be able to get rid of any spyware infection.