What is Spyware? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Spyware? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Spyware?

Did you know that a staggering 89% of internet users have experienced some form of spyware on their devices at least once? With such a high prevalence, it’s essential to understand what spyware is, how it works, and most importantly, how to protect yourself from it.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the world of spyware, its various types, and provide practical advice on detecting, preventing, and removing it from your devices.


  • Spyware is malicious software that secretly collects a person’s data, like their online activity or keystrokes, without their consent or knowledge.

  • Examples of spyware include rootkits, keyloggers, and browser hijackers. They can steal sensitive data, such as passwords and credit card details, leading to identity theft.

  • To prevent spyware, users should regularly update their software, use robust antivirus tools, and avoid suspicious websites or downloads.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Understanding Spyware

Spyware is a silent infiltrator that secretly collects your data and monitors your online activities, all without your knowledge or consent. Its primary goal is to gather sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial details, or browsing habits, and use it for malicious purposes.

Spyware can be particularly dangerous as it operates under the radar, often going unnoticed until it’s too late.

Defining Spyware

So what exactly is spyware? In a nutshell, spyware is a type of malicious software that collects personal information and data without the user’s permission. It’s like a sneaky thief that enters your home, rummages through your belongings, and takes what it wants, all without leaving a trace.

Spyware can infiltrate devices through various channels, such as bundled software, malicious emails, and vulnerable websites.

Spyware vs Other Malware

While spyware might sound similar to other forms of malware like viruses, worms, and ransomware, there’s a key difference that sets it apart. Unlike these other types of malware, spyware’s main goal isn’t to cause damage to your device or spread to other devices. Instead, it focuses on collecting sensitive information from the unsuspecting user.

For example, a virus is designed to replicate and spread across multiple devices, causing harm and disrupting systems in its wake. Spyware, on the other hand, is more like a stalker, quietly observing and collecting data from each device it infects. This makes spyware a unique and significant threat that requires specific tools and strategies to detect and combat.

Common Types of Spyware

Spyware comes in various forms, each with its own specific functions and tactics. Some of the most common types of spyware include adware, keyloggers, Trojans, and mobile spyware.

Each of these types presents unique challenges and dangers, making it essential to understand their characteristics and how they operate.


Adware is a type of spyware that monitors your browsing activities and displays targeted advertisements based on your interests. It’s like a pesky salesperson that follows you around, always trying to sell you something.

While adware might seem relatively harmless compared to other types of spyware, it can still pose serious security risks. For instance, adware can exploit security vulnerabilities in your device, enabling hackers to gain unauthorized access to your data.

Moreover, the constant barrage of pop-up ads can slow down your system and cause an overall poor browsing experience. It’s essential to be aware of adware and take the necessary steps to prevent it from infiltrating your devices.


Keyloggers are a particularly nefarious type of spyware that records every keystroke you make on your infected device. Imagine having someone constantly looking over your shoulder, noting down everything you type – from emails and passwords to credit card numbers and personal messages.

There are two types of keyloggers: hardware and software. Both types pose significant threats to your privacy and security. By tracking your keystrokes, keyloggers can steal sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial details, and confidential communications. This stolen data can then be used for a variety of malicious purposes, including identity theft and fraud.

To protect yourself from keyloggers, it’s crucial to employ strong security measures and remain vigilant about the potential risks.


Trojans are a cunning type of spyware that masquerades as legitimate software in order to infiltrate your devices and steal your data. It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, blending in with your other applications and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Trojans are particularly dangerous because they can compromise your device without raising any red flags, making them difficult to detect and remove.

One example of a Trojan is Zlob, which records a victim’s browsing history and keystrokes. Trojans can cause significant damage by stealing sensitive information, disrupting your device’s performance, and even allowing hackers to gain unauthorized access to your system.

To protect yourself from Trojans, always exercise caution when downloading software and ensure you’re using a reliable security program to scan for potential threats.

Mobile Spyware

As smartphones and tablets have become increasingly popular, so too has mobile spyware. This type of spyware specifically targets mobile devices, stealing a wide range of personal information, including SMS messages, call logs, contacts, emails, photos, and browser history. Mobile spyware can also log keystrokes, record audio, take pictures without your knowledge, and track your location using GPS.

The information obtained from mobile spyware can be used for various malicious purposes, such as extortion or identity theft. To protect your mobile devices from spyware, it’s important to practice safe browsing habits, keep your apps and operating system up-to-date, and use reliable security software to scan for and remove potential threats.

How Spyware Infects Devices

Spyware can infiltrate your devices through a variety of methods, including bundled software, malicious emails, and vulnerable websites. These seemingly innocuous entry points can serve as a gateway for spyware to gain a foothold on your device and begin its silent surveillance.

Understanding how spyware infects devices is crucial for taking the necessary precautions to prevent infections and protect your valuable data.

Bundled Software

Bundled software refers to applications that come packaged with other, seemingly useful free programs. These bundles can include spyware hidden within the application, which is then installed on your device without your knowledge. Once installed, the spyware can monitor your activity, steal your data, or even take control of your device.

To avoid falling victim to bundled software, always download apps from reliable sources, read the terms and conditions carefully, and use a reputable antivirus program to scan for potential threats. By being vigilant and exercising caution, you can prevent spyware from sneaking onto your devices through bundled software.

Malicious Emails

Malicious emails can serve as a vehicle for spyware, with unsuspecting users inadvertently downloading the malicious software by opening attachments or clicking on links. These emails often appear legitimate, with convincing subject lines and content designed to entice you into taking the bait. Once you’ve clicked on the link or opened the attachment, the spyware is installed on your device and begins its stealthy mission.

To protect yourself from malicious emails, never open attachments or click on links from unknown or suspicious sources. Additionally, ensure you have a reliable antivirus program installed to scan for potential threats. By being cautious and staying informed, you can minimize the risk of spyware infections through malicious emails.

Vulnerable Websites

Vulnerable websites are sites with security flaws, system misconfigurations, or other weaknesses that can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to systems or processes. These websites can host spyware, making them a potential source of infection for unsuspecting users who visit them. Examples of website vulnerabilities include injection problems, cross-site scripting, and SQL injection.

To minimize the risk of spyware infections through vulnerable websites, always practice safe browsing habits, use a secure web browser, and keep your operating system up-to-date. By staying vigilant and informed, you can protect your devices from potential spyware threats lurking on vulnerable websites.

Detecting Spyware Infections

Detecting spyware infections can be challenging, as the malicious software often operates covertly without causing any obvious signs of its presence. However, there are some common symptoms that may indicate your device has been infected with spyware, such as slow performance, frequent crashes, and unexpected pop-ups or error messages.

By being aware of these telltale signs, you can take action to remove the spyware and protect your valuable data.

Performance Issues

Slow performance and frequent crashes can be a sign that your device has been infected with spyware. The malicious software can use up valuable system resources, causing your device to run sluggishly or crash unexpectedly. This can be particularly frustrating, as it not only impacts your productivity but also serves as a constant reminder that your privacy and security have been compromised.

To detect and remove performance-impacting spyware, utilize a reliable antivirus program that includes a spyware scanner and remover. By regularly scanning your device and addressing any potential threats, you can ensure that your device remains free of spyware and operates at optimal performance levels.

Unusual Pop-ups and Messages

Unexpected pop-ups and error messages are another indication that your device may be infected with spyware. These intrusive notifications can be annoying and disruptive, often appearing at the most inopportune times. They can also serve as a gateway for further spyware infections, as clicking on these pop-ups may download additional malicious software onto your device.

To stop malicious pop-ups, disable notifications permissions for certain websites on your device, and use a reliable antivirus program to scan for potential threats. By being proactive and tackling these issues head-on, you can minimize the impact of spyware on your device and maintain a more secure browsing experience.

Preventing and Removing Spyware

While detecting and removing spyware is important, the best defense against these threats is prevention. By practicing safe browsing habits, investing in reliable security software, and educating yourself and others about the dangers of spyware, you can minimize the risk of infection and keep your devices and data secure.

In the following sections, we’ll offer practical advice on preventing spyware infections and removing them from affected devices.

Best Practices for Spyware Prevention

The first line of defense against spyware is practicing safe browsing habits. This includes being cautious when clicking on links or downloading files, avoiding suspicious websites, and staying informed about the latest spyware threats. Additionally, it’s essential to use a trusted antivirus software with anti-spyware and anti-malware features, such as Norton, Kaspersky, or Bitdefender. Regularly running scans, keeping the software up-to-date, and using a firewall are all crucial steps in protecting your devices from spyware infections.

Another important aspect of spyware prevention is password security. Creating strong, unique passwords for all your online accounts can greatly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your sensitive information. Utilize a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and avoid using common phrases or personal information. Consider using a password manager to generate and store strong passwords for you, ensuring that your accounts remain secure and protected from spyware attacks.

Spyware Removal Techniques

In the event that your device becomes infected with spyware, there are several techniques to remove the malicious software and restore your device to its previous state. One of the most effective methods is using anti-spyware software like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender. These programs can scan your device for spyware, remove any detected threats, and provide ongoing protection against future infections.

For mobile devices, uninstalling suspicious apps, running a malware scan, and performing a factory reset can help remove spyware and restore your device to its original state. Remember to back up your data before performing a factory reset, as this process will erase all your personal information and settings.

By taking decisive action and employing these spyware removal techniques, you can regain control of your device and protect your valuable data from further compromise.

Protecting Your Data After Spyware Removal

Once you’ve successfully removed spyware from your device, it’s essential to take steps to protect your personal information and prevent future infections. This includes strengthening your passwords, keeping your software up-to-date, and educating yourself and others about the latest spyware threats.

In the following sections, we’ll offer practical advice on securing your data and maintaining a safe and secure digital environment.

Strengthening Passwords

Creating strong, unique passwords for all your online accounts is crucial in protecting your sensitive information from unauthorized access. A strong password should include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and avoid using common phrases or personal information.

Additionally, consider using a password manager to generate and store strong passwords on your behalf, ensuring your accounts remain secure and protected from potential spyware attacks.

Regular Software Updates

Keeping your operating systems and applications up-to-date is essential in maintaining a secure digital environment. Regular software updates not only improve performance and fix bugs, but also address security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by spyware and other malicious software.

Make a habit of regularly checking for updates and installing them as soon as they become available to minimize the risk of spyware infections.

Educating Yourself and Others

Staying informed about the latest spyware threats and sharing this knowledge with friends and family is an important aspect of maintaining a secure digital environment. By educating yourself and others, you can help raise awareness about the dangers of spyware and promote safe browsing habits.

Consider sharing helpful resources like articles, blogs, and online courses to spread the word and empower others to protect their devices and data from spyware attacks.


In conclusion, spyware is a pervasive and insidious threat that affects millions of internet users worldwide. By understanding the various types of spyware, their methods of infection, and the signs and symptoms of an infection, you can take proactive steps to prevent, detect, and remove spyware from your devices. Remember, the best defense against spyware is prevention, so stay informed, practice safe browsing habits, and use reliable security software to keep your devices and data safe from harm. Together, we can combat the threat of spyware and create a more secure digital world for all.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is spyware?

Spyware is malicious software that can be installed on a person’s computer or mobile device without their knowledge, which logs keystrokes, collects private information, and tracks their online activity. Examples of spyware include Trojans, rootkits, keyloggers, and browser hijackers.

How do people get spyware?

People get spyware through deceptive downloads, malicious email attachments, links in social media messages, and by visiting scammy websites.

In some cases, spyware can be embedded in free software applications, or found when opening email attachments from unknown senders.

What are the symptoms of spyware?

Common Symptoms of Spyware include slower computer performance, increased pop-ups, unauthorized changes in your browser settings and homepage, and new toolbars or icons on your desktop.

These symptoms can be indicative of a spyware infection, and it is important to take steps to remove the spyware as soon as possible. There are a variety of tools available to help you detect and remove spyware from your computer.

What is considered spyware?

Spyware is malicious software that can be installed on computers without the user’s knowledge. It typically collects data and activity information from the computer to be sent to a third party, such as advertisers or other organizations.

It can also cause unexpected pop-up ads, redirect web searches, and slow down the computer.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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