You don’t know for sure but you have a hunch that someone’s spying on your computer – maybe it’s the way your device seems to slow down for no reason at all and it suddenly becomes unresponsive. Or the cryptic emails and newsletters you’ve been receiving from random parties even though you’re sure you didn’t make a subscription.
For most of us, our computers and mobile devices are privy to our most private information. This is where we submit data that’s most valuable to us – our banking passwords, as well as credit card and other personal information. Having your identity stolen is disturbing and also very inconvenient. You’ll need to report the theft and replace the cards, as well as change passwords. Once all that is done, you will want to check all your online devices and remove the offending spyware so it doesn’t affect you again.
So what exactly is spyware and how does it wreak havoc on your desktop, mobile devices and your life?
Spyware is a type of malware that infiltrates our computer and steals private information. It often gets downloaded into our computers without our knowledge when we click on a pop-up box or freeware online. There are different types of spyware: from Trojans and keystroke loggers to adware and programmes that hijack information.
When spyware is downloaded onto your device, it creates all kinds of issues with your computer and your life (depending on the type of spyware used) – from monitoring the activities on a computer to stealing personally identifiable information (PII) to deleting files and encrypting files for ransom. Henry Wan from research and IT consultancy firm, Basic Insight, has outlined 10 clues to look out for and advises on next steps to keep your devices spyware-free for good!
#1 Look out for your computer, Internet or keyboard slowing down
While a slowdown in CPU speed can point to a hard drive that hasn’t been properly cleared, it can also indicate that there’s additional software running in the background that’s being used to steal, hack and spy on information. If your keyboard is laggy, that can also indicate that keyloggers are being used to monitor every stroke you apply on your keyboard .
#2 There are strange pop-ups and suspicious-looking icons on your desktop or browser
If you’re getting strange pop-ups and suspicious-looking icons appearing on your desktop from online sources that you would not be seen dead subscribing to (like a porn or pharmaceutical site, for instance), there’s a good chance your computer has been hacked and spied upon.
#3 Your Antivirus Programme is No Longer Updating Itself
If your antivirus programme can no longer update itself or has stopped totally, it may be an indication that there’s Spyware lurking in your computer. “Malware these days are very sophisticated. They are able to infiltrate your system by disabling computer security,” says Wan. It’s important to have an updated antivirus programme installed in your computer because hackers are constantly trying new ways to attack and overcome our existing (antivirus) programmes, so they need to be constantly updated to counter these attacks.
#4 You receive email or phone notifications alerting you that your account is logged in from a different location
These notifications are created to inform us if someone is logging in to our account from an unknown location. It’s important to pay attention to the location mentioned. If it’s from an unknown area, we should take precautions by testing our computer for malware.
#5 You get alerted via your desktop or phone notifications or email that you’ve made changes to your account settings (and you certainly didn’t make them!)
You should be the only one authorised to make changes to your account settings. If someone is making changes on your behalf without authority, this is cause for concern and should be investigated.
#6 You noticed a process from a strange source on Task Manager
If you’re going through the list of processes on your task manager and have spotted something out of the ordinary, your computer could be infected with malware.
Here’s an easy way to check if you’re being spied on remotely…
- Go to your Task Manager on Windows or Apple and take a look at your CPU usage
- Look for a process that’s out of the ordinary like the one shown
- Take special notice of it if it is an .exe file. While not all .exe files contain a virus, files that are infected can be .exe files.
- If the process is using up a high portion of your CPU and it’s not a programme you have downloaded, chances are, someone is watching you. In this case, end the task – this will stop them in their tracks for the time being. Check periodically to ensure the problem doesn’t reoccur.