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What Is Spyware? (+5 Ways Hackers Try to Steal Your Info)

July 16, 2019

I spy with my little eye that your computer has a virus.

Okay, that’s probably not true, but it could. When it comes to cyber security attacks, spyware is one of the oldest and the most popular. And although it sounds like something out of a James Bond movie, spyware is real and can affect anyone.

It’s easy to become a victim of spyware, and not always easy to remove it from an infected device, especially if you don’t know it’s there collecting your information. To find out how you can protect yourself, your device, and your data, just keep reading.

Spyware 101

Unsure what spyware even is? Let’s break it down.

As a type of malware, it does all of this in secret and relays the data it collects to other parties. Through your internet connection, it relays your personal information, like your name, address, phone number, browsing history, and more, to hackers with malicious intent.

Types of spyware

Spyware isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of cyber attack, as there are many different types you could fall victim to.


Adware is a type of spyware that automatically downloads to track your browsing data with the intent of predicting the products and services you’re interested in. It will then display advertisements for those products or services to coax you into clicking and purchasing.


Trojans are malicious software programs that disguise themselves as a legitimate program (you know -- like the Trojan horse in Greek mythology). When you’re a victim of a trojan attack, you will unknowingly install a file that is disguised as a program, only for it to delete your files, encrypt your data for ransom, or give your personal information to others with the intent of identity theft.

Types of Spyware


Keyloggers are used to steal personal information, login credentials, and sensitive data by tracking the keystrokes of your keyboard. They’re not only used by cybercriminals, but also employer’s to observe computer activity and parents to supervise their children as they use the internet.

There are hardware keyloggers that resemble a flash drive and software keylogger programs that can be downloaded onto a computer.

Related: Learn more about the difference between hardware and software!

Password stealers

As the name suggests, password stealers are applications designed to collect passwords from infected computers, ranging from your email, banking account, or social media accounts. This puts you at risk for a variety of different cyber crimes as your passwords will then be sent to remote hackers to use at will.

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Mobile spyware

This type of spyware is specific to our mobile devices, as it can infect them through an SMS or MMS message, and usually doesn’t require any user interaction to initiate. When your mobile is infected, the phone’s camera and microphone will be enabled to spy on your activity, record your phone calls, track your browsing activity, and even monitor your keystrokes.

In fact, check out this mobile spyware that was sent to my father, just yesterday.

Mobile Spyware

Did you know? The number of mobile spyware increased by 54% in 2017, with 27% of malicious apps being in the Lifestyle category.

How do I get spyware?

No one is safe from spyware, as it can affect PCs, Macs, and iOS and Android devices. Some of the most common ways your computer or mobile device can become infected are:

  • Accepting a prompt, or clicking on a pop-up, without reading it
  • Downloading software from an unknown source
  • Opening phishing emails that contain attachments or malicious links
  • Downloading media, such as music, movies, or games

To prevent spyware from infecting your devices, steer clear of these actions, and check out these other cyber security tips to make sure your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Accidents do happen, and hackers are smart, so you could still fall victim to a spyware attack, no matter how careful you are. If that’s the case, or you’re worried about being targeted by hackers, make sure your devices contain antivirus software, which prevents and detects malicious software for you. If you’re unsure which of these tools is right for you, check out our list!

See the Highest-Rated Antivirus Software →

Spyware removal

Many antivirus software programs can perform a scan on your device, so if you think your computer has been infected by spyware, run a scan to see if anything looks out of the ordinary. While some of these programs are constantly scanning, others only work when you manually initiate a scan

Some signs your device has spyware are that it performs slow, it crashes unexpectedly, it is running out of hardware space, or you see a variety of pop-ups, whether you’re online or offline.

Your information is for your eyes only

So make sure your devices are a safehouse for your personal data that cannot be infiltrated. Anyone can fall victim to a spyware attack, and with so many ways for hackers to penetrate our systems, it’s more important than ever to know how to prevent a spyware attack before they happen.

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