Spyware concept hand holds black binoculars on a yellow background.

With spyware, cybercriminals can obtain private information on your device without you even knowing about it. This sneaky malware can gain full access to your login credentials, banking details and everything you type, and even spy on you through your device’s camera or microphone.

Spyware is designed to be undetectable, making it a severe threat to your privacy. Don’t fret; you don’t need a sixth sense to know if you have prying eyes spying on everything you do on your PC or smartphone.

This guide will help you discover what spyware is, what it can do and how to prevent and remove this malicious spy software. If you want your privacy to stay private, read on.

What is spyware?

Spyware is a type of malicious software (malware) that sneakily obtains information on a device without the user’s knowledge and sends it to a threat actor. The stolen data can be anything from device information to personal files, photos, videos and more, which can be used to violate the user’s privacy or harm their device. This can lead to stolen passwords, banking accounts or sensitive information.

Spyware can infect devices by disguising themselves as legitimate software, such as an app or email attachment, to trick users into believing what they’ve installed is harmless. Spyware can put a user’s safety in danger without them being aware of the device being infected.

Since attackers can use spyware to track everything a user does, including the websites visited, communications between contacts and apps used daily, it can be easy for an attacker to obtain an assortment of information about a user. This can be used to harm the user directly or can be sold on dark web markets to malicious actors looking to exploit this information.

This nasty type of malware can easily slip past the defences of a device, which is why it’s a good idea to keep an antivirus on at all times to fortify your device.

Want to know more about other stealthy threat cybercriminals use? Check out our explainers below.

What can spyware do?

Spyware is designed to be an invisible stalker. If it stays on your device long enough, it can obtain enough private data on you to cause serious damage to your financial and personal security.

Attackers will use spyware to gain any information they can about you, and the spy software can do this by doing the following:

  • Recording video, audio and screens
  • Checking emails, social media apps and text messages
  • Recording your browser history
  • Recording everything your type through keylogging
  • Remotely accessing your device

This behaviour can lead to hackers accessing your usernames, passwords, email addresses, credit card details, message content, private pictures and videos, and more.

Using spyware isn’t solely for tech-savvy attackers to steal money. It is known that stalkers or abusive partners use spyware to invade the privacy of victims. Spyware is a dangerous tool that can cause serious harm, so everyone needs the proper protection from it.

What is an example of spyware?

There are many examples of spyware, and the Pegasus spyware is one of the most common. It was developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli cyber-intelligence firm, and can infect iOS and Android mobile devices. It’s known to take screenshots, listen in on phone calls and see what the user types on their phone. It can also remove itself from the device if someone discovers it. Now that’s advanced.

Other examples of spyware can be as simple as hiding in popular apps on the App Store or Google Play Store for anyone to download. As recently reported, security researchers at Dr.Web discovered 101 Android apps with 421 million downloads containing a software module with spyware features – known as Android.Spy.SpinOk – with the ability to search and collect personal data to transfer them to the threat actor. This trojan SDK can swipe images, videos and more for attackers to do as they please.

Cyberthieves often use spyware to infect Android or iPhone devices, as apps are an easy target. But spyware can also infect other devices like PCs.

Use antivirus software to stop spyware

Simply put, the best way to get rid of spyware, or any malicious software, is to use the best antivirus software.

Many free spyware and malware removal apps will dispatch malicious software on your device. Still, it’s a good idea to ensure these tools are trustworthy, as hackers can also disguise these tools on the App Store or Google Play Store to scam you or deploy even more malware.

Protection services such as Norton 360, Bitdefender, Avast and Malwarebytes all deliver high lab scores for detection and protection from all manner of malware, including spyware. They can scope out malicious attachments, apps or dodgy links on websites to see if they contain any spy software. What’s more, if it somehow sneakily gains access to your device, an antivirus can notify you of its presence and get rid of it. Not so undetectable anymore, right?

If you find any signs of this spyware in an app (or any type of malware), here are couple of ways to get rid of dangerous apps on your iPhone or Android phone safely. For more ways, check out our guides on how to remove malware on Android and how to remove malware on iPhone.

Signs of malware on iPhone and Android

There are telltale signs that your device is under attack, which may include your device’s browser redirecting you to different web pages and installing unwanted toolbars, extensions or plugins. Spyware is no different, so make sure you look out for these signs.

  • Your device is slower than usual and crashes frequently.
  • Your browser is slower than usual and crashes frequently.
  • Browsing through websites takes longer.
  • You need to recharge your device more often.
  • Apps take longer to load.
  • There’s an unknown app or software on your device you didn’t download.

Safely remove an app on Android

  • On your Android, press the necessary buttons to turn off your device.
  • Tap and hold the Power off icon.
  • Press OK to reboot to safe mode. This will restart your device.
How to remove malware on Android
  • Once restarted, head to Settings.
  • Navigate to Apps.
  • Select any suspicious apps you wish to remove.
  • Tap Uninstall. Restart your device to go back to normal mode.
How to remove malware on Android

Clear cache on Android

Clearing your browser and app cache on your device will help minimize the effects of malware. Apps and browsers store your online activities, and malicious software like adware can use this to cause more harm. Clearing cache can also help clear up space on your Android, boosting the device’s performance.

  • To clear app cache, head to Settings.
  • Select Storage and choose Apps.
  • Select an app.
  • Tap Clear cache.
How to remove adware on Android 2

Many Android owners use Google Chrome as their default browser. Here’s how to clear cache in Chrome on Android.

  • On your Android, open Chrome.
  • Tap the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner.
  • Select Settings.
  • Tap Privacy and security.
  • Select Clear browsing data.
  • To just clear cache, uncheck Browsing history and Cookies and site data.
  • Tap Clear data.
How to remove adware on Android 3

Safely remove an app on iPhone

  • On your device, press the necessary buttons to turn off your device.
  • Turn your device on again by holding the power button.
  • Once it lights up, hold down the volume down button until you see the Apple logo. Your iPhone should now be in Safe Mode.
Remove adware on iPhone
  • Tap and hold any suspicious or unwanted apps.
  • Tap Delete App. Restart your device to go back to normal mode.

Clear cache on iPhone

Apps and browsers that store your online activity can be used and spied on by malware. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to clear your browser and app cache on your iPhone to minimise the effects of the malicious software. Moreover, clearing the cache can also help clear up space on your iPhone or iPad, boosting performance.

  • To clear app cache, go to Settings on your device.
  • Tap General.
  • Select iPhone Storage (or iPad Storage).
  • Choose an app you wish to clear.
  • Tap Offload App.
  • A message will appear stating it will delete the app but keep its documents and data. Tap Offload App.
Remove adware on iPhone

Many iPhone owners use Safari as their default browser. Here’s how to clear cache in Safari on iPhone.

  • Go to Settings.
  • Scroll down and tap Safari.
  • Navigate to Advanced at the bottom and tap on it.
  • Tap Website Data.
  • Tap Remove All Website Data.
Remove adware on iPhone

Safely remove an app on iPhone

  • On your device, press the necessary buttons to turn off your device.
  • Turn your device on again by holding the power button.
  • Once it lights up, hold down the volume down button until you see the Apple logo. Your iPhone should now be in Safe Mode.
Remove adware on iPhone
  • Tap and hold any suspicious or unwanted apps.
  • Tap Delete App. Restart your device to go back to normal mode.

Clear cache on iPhone

Apps and browsers that store your online activity can be used and spied on by malware. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to clear your browser and app cache on your iPhone to minimise the effects of the malicious software. Moreover, clearing the cache can also help clear up space on your iPhone or iPad, boosting performance.

  • To clear app cache, go to Settings on your device.
  • Tap General.
  • Select iPhone Storage (or iPad Storage).
  • Choose an app you wish to clear.
  • Tap Offload App.
  • A message will appear stating it will delete the app but keep its documents and data. Tap Offload App.
Remove adware on iPhone

Many iPhone owners use Safari as their default browser. Here’s how to clear cache in Safari on iPhone.

  • Go to Settings.
  • Scroll down and tap Safari.
  • Navigate to Advanced at the bottom and tap on it.
  • Tap Website Data.
  • Tap Remove All Website Data.

Clear iPhone data and restore from backup

Some malware, especially spyware, on iPhone can be tricky to detect and remove. If your iPhone is still acting strangely and the harmful side effects persist, you’ll want to try erasing your data and restoring your iPhone to a previous state. Hopefully, before the spyware sneaked its way onto your device.

  • On your device, head to Settings and tap on General.
  • Scroll to the bottom and select Transfer and Reset.
  • Choose Erase All Content and Settings.
  • Tap Backup Then Erase.
  • A menu will pop up. Select Restore from iCloud Backup.
  • in your iCloud account, select the backup that should resolve the issue. Make sure you have the right documents and files you need saved.

Best antivirus to detect spyware

You can find out the best antivirus software below.

  1. Bitdefender
    Best overall antivirus

    Bitdefender

    Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.

    Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.

    It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need. 

    See our full Bitdefender review

    Click here to get Bitdefender Premium Security ($100 OFF!)

  2. Avast One
    Best free antivirus

    Avast One logo

    With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.

    Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.

    It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.

    See our full Avast One review

    Click here to get Avast One (up to 50% OFF!)

  3. Norton 360
    Best antivirus for families

    Norton 360 on Laptop

    “Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990. 

    Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats. 

    Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.

    If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.

    See our full Norton 360 review

    Click here to get Norton 360 (get $80 OFF!)

  4. AVG
    Another best antivirus for free

    AVG Antivirus logo on laptop

    You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.

    AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.

    Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.

    See our full AVG Antivirus review

    Click here to get AVG (up to 42% OFF!)

  5. Malwarebytes
    Best antivirus for Windows PC

    Malwarebytes Logo

    Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.

    Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.

    That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement. 

    See our full Malwarebytes review

    Click here to get Malwarebytes

Darragh Murphy
Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from the mischievous world of online security to washing machines designed for earbuds. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for laptops into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. When he's not checking out the latest devices and all things tech, he can be found swimming laps, watching terrible shark movies, and trying to find time to game.  Previous Editor at Laptop Mag and News Editor at Time Out Dubai, specialising in food culture, nightlife events, gaming, tech and entertainment.

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