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What is spyware? How to safeguard your devices

Is your online data safe? A certain type of malware known as spyware is specially designed to infiltrate users’ devices and steal sensitive personal information

6 min read

So, you’ve got your cloud storage neatly organized and your passwords set to autofill — but is your data safe online? A certain type of malware known as spyware is specially designed to infiltrate users’ devices and steal private information right out from under their noses. After all, even though new technologies improve our lives in so many ways, they can also be co-opted and used for nefarious purposes. 

Our security series is packed with information to help you better protect yourself and your data from spyware and other common cybersecurity threats. The goal: to give you more peace of mind, knowing that you're taking smart, proactive steps to keep hackers and fraudsters at bay.

In this article, learn what spyware is and get helpful tips for keeping your devices safe from this sneaky software. Let’s go! 

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What is spyware?

Spyware is a type of malware designed to spy on a user's computer or phone without their knowledge. There are various ways that users can unwittingly install spyware on their devices, such as by downloading other free software that is bundled together with spyware, clicking on malicious links, or visiting infected websites. Once installed, spyware monitors the user's online activities, capturing sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers, and even recording the strokes that the user types on their keyboard.

How does spyware work?

Spyware secretly monitors a user's computer or mobile device — completely unbeknownst to them. It relies on a user to install it on their own device, so it often masquerades as a legitimate link or other kind of software. Once the user mistakenly installs it, spyware collects private information about them.

What does spyware do?

Spywayre can perform intrusive and malicious actions without the user's knowledge. That’s what makes it dangerous. These actions can include:

  • Monitoring your online activities: Spyware can track users' online activities, including the websites they visit, their search queries, and even their keystrokes.
  • Stealing your sensitive information: Hackers can track data such as passwords, credit card numbers, and other personal information.
  • Displaying pop-up ads: Persistent pop-up ads that are difficult to close or keep reappearing might be caused by spyware or other malware.
  • Slowing down your device: If a computer or phone is infected with spyware, the device might crash or freeze, affecting its performance and using up valuable system resources.
  • Installing additional malware: Once installed, spyware can install additional malware, such as adware or ransomware. This can further compromise users’ online security and privacy.

Like other cyber attacks, spyware can be a serious threat to your online security and privacy. So, how do you know if your devices have been infected? Keep reading to learn about the telltale signs of spyware.

Signs of a spyware attack

Spyware can be difficult to detect and remove, as it often hides in the background and can be disguised as legitimate software. It can also be spread through email attachments or file downloads. 

Beyond slower device performance and unwanted pop-up ads, there are additional indicators that you might be suffering from spyware. Here are a few of the warning signs:

  • Unusual network activity: Spyware can use your device's network connection to send and receive data without your knowledge. Pay attention to unusual network activity, such as high data usage or connections to unknown IP addresses.
  • Changes to browser settings: Spyware can change your web browser settings, such as the homepage or search engine, without your permission.
  • New or unfamiliar programs: Noticing new or unfamiliar programs on your device? It may be a sign of spyware.

The good news is that a spyware infection doesn’t need to be permanent. For your safety and privacy, it’s important to take action as soon as you realize that your device has spyware on it.

What to do if you get infected with spyware

If you suspect that your device has been infected with spyware, it's crucial to remove it before it does even more damage. Here are a few important steps you can take:

  • Use antivirus software. Run a full system scan with your antivirus software to detect and remove any spyware or other malware that may be on your device.
  • Uninstall suspicious programs. Go to your device's control panel and uninstall any programs that you don't recognize or that you suspect may be spyware.
  • Reset your web browser. Resetting your web browser to its default settings can help remove any unwanted changes.
  • Use spyware removal tools. There are several spyware removal tools that can help detect and remove spyware from your device. Choose one from a reputable source — otherwise, you might be a victim of other cyber attacks, such as scareware.
  • Reset your device. If the spyware infection is really severe, you may need to take stronger action, like reverting back to a system restore point or doing a full factory reset.

Taking preventive measures is also important — including for your mobile data. Check out our online security guide for extra tips and remember to protect your phone from hackers!

How to protect your data from spyware

As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Because many malware threats are challenging to identify and remove, make sure to take preventive measures to safeguard your devices in the first place. Here are some tips that we suggest following regularly:

  • Use antivirus software. Install reputable antivirus software on your device and keep it updated. This will help detect any spyware or other malware on your device and remove it.
  • Be cautious when downloading software. Only download software from trusted sources, such as the official website of the software provider. Be wary of free software downloads, as they may be trying to smuggle other malware or Trojan horse viruses onto your system.
  • Keep your operating system and software up to date. Make sure your device's operating system and software are updated with the latest security patches and updates. Otherwise, older versions might have known vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.
  • Use a pop-up blocker. Unwanted pop-up ads are not only annoying, they can also lead to other security issues. A pop-up blocker can stop them from appearing on your device.
  • Be cautious when clicking on links. If you aren’t familiar with the source, think twice before opening emails or clicking on links. Malicious links could install spyware on your device.

These simple steps can go a long way towards reinforcing your security and safety. And ultimately, that means that you, your devices, and your private information are better protected against spyware and other cyber attacks.

Security at N26

At N26, protecting your finances is our top priority. We’re proud to offer digital banking that doesn't compromise on security. Get a modern, streamlined banking experience that also puts your mind at ease, thanks to security features like biometric authentication, smartphone pairing, and 3D Secure technology. And with push notifications any time money enters or leaves your account, you can keep close watch on what’s happening with your finances.

If you’re worried that you might have been the target of a cyber attack, reach out to our N26 Customer Support team right away. They’re available seven days a week through the chat feature on your N26 mobile app or through the N26 WebApp. Ready to take your online security to the next level and further safeguard your finances? Read our comprehensive security guide — it’s packed with valuable advice about how to stay safe online.

By N26

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