How to Check if your Computer is Compromised by Spyware
Things happen, you receive an ad on your phone or PC that seems to tie back to a previously private discussion with one of your friends. You wonder if this was coincidence or intentional. However often you login to websites with your Facebook or Google account, understand that, it only makes it easier for corporations to monitor your behavior, and forward ads specifically for your immediate interests. Though, it may not always be big tech companies responsible for this either. Sometimes, it may be someone else with more malicious intent tracking your behavior, and here are some ways you can deal with it;
1. Check the Task Manager or Activity Monitor
Malware comes in various forms that often behave differently. Some are impossible to miss – like ransomware – and others keep a low profile.
Spyware is subtle in comparison to other types of malware. It hides in your system, keeping track of every password you type, every video call you make and every email you send.
While these pieces of software are sneaky, they do leave behind breadcrumbs. Your first stop is the Task Manager if you’re on a Windows PC or your Activity Monitor on a Mac. Both give you an overview of everything happening on your machine.
For PC users:
Open the Task Manager by hitting Ctrl + Shift + Esc. Under the Processes tab, you’ll see the apps and background processes running on your PC.
Look through the list. If you see a name you don’t recognize, do a search to see what turns up. Sometimes, these programs and background processes are legitimate and of no concern, even if you don’t know the name at first glance.
To close out an app or process, right-click and hit End task.
For Mac users:
To open the Activity Monitor, hit Command + Spacebar to open Spotlight Search. Then, type Activity Monitor and press Enter. Check over the list for anything you don’t recognize.
To close out a program or process, double click, then hit Quit.
Spyware can be planted by a hacker, a jealous ex, a relative, or even your boss. In this podcast episode, I dive into how "bossware" works and everything your workplace might know about you and your tech habits.
2. Know what to expect
One telltale sign of a malware infection? Processes start on their own. Don't write it off if an app launches itself out of the blue. Take it as a warning sign.
Let's say you only have a couple of apps that open when you start up your computer. If a different window briefly appears before flicking out of existence, it could be a spyware program loading. They're designed to disappear, so you don't notice them, but they might briefly show themselves in this way.
By keeping tabs on what should happen when you start your computer, you’ll have a better idea when something odd is happening.
How to change startup apps on a PC:
Click the Start menu.
Select Settings (cog icon) and click Apps.
In the left menu, click Startup at the bottom.
The Startup panel displays the apps installed on your machine. If Windows has measured the impact of that app on your PC, you will see a rating next to it. Options include No impact, Low impact, Medium impact, and High impact.
An app with a high impact can slow down your startup time. Go through the list and determine which apps you don’t need immediately after startup. Toggle each slider next to the app to turn it on or off.
How to change startup apps on a Mac:
Click on the Apple menu, then System Preferences.
Click Users & Groups.
Select your User Account, then click Login Items on the top right.
Here you’ll see a list of the applications that open automatically when you log in.
To prevent an app from running automatically, click Remove a login item. Then select the app’s name that you want to block and click on the Remove button below the list.
You can use the checkbox to hide items you still would like to launch. Hit the plus symbol under the list and find it on your computer to add a new item.
What happens when you discover malware on your computer? You need to get to work. Tap or click here for the steps to take to protect yourself.
3. Stay up to date
Updates are annoying. They always pop up when you’re busy, and you don’t want to deal with bugs and other issues the latest version of Windows or macOS introduces. Still, keeping your system up to date is one of the best ways to keep up with the constant flood of junk looking to root its way into your computer.
To update your Mac:
Click the Apple icon from the menu bar at the top of the screen.
Hit System Preferences > Software Update.
From here, you can also enable automatic updates by checking the box at the bottom of the window. For more options, click Advanced.
To update your PC:
Click the Start Menu and open Settings.
Click Update & Security > Windows Update.
You’ll see if updates are available for download. If an update is available, click Download and Install. If you don’t see an available update, click Check for Updates to force the process.