How to remove spyware from Mac

One of the best things about macOS is that it’s incredibly secure and gets far fewer viruses than other operating systems. However, that doesn’t mean it’s immune. There have been plenty of incidents of malware harming Macs in recent years. Thankfully, though, it’s still relatively rare for Macs to be infected with spyware, and when it happens, it’s not too difficult to get rid of it.

What is spyware?

Spyware is malicious code that finds its way onto your computer and then sucks up personal data — that could be personal information about you, financial details, keystrokes, web browsing habits, or even images from your webcam. The main threat associated with spyware is that it usually works in the background, meaning that it can remain unnoticed for a long time.

There are several main types of spyware: 

  1. Adware — a type of spyware designed to collect user information and, based on it, generate adverts or pop-up windows. It’s very frustrating and hugely inconvenient, though it’s unlikely to do real damage to you or your Mac. Except for the fact that pop-ups and ads may contain links to more malicious apps. 
  2. Trojans — files that look legitimate, like software updates or movies, and they’re designed to fool users into downloading them. Once you’ve done that, they will access your data, which could harm your Mac.
  3. Cookie trackers — malicious apps used to track your browsing habits and web searches. That information can then be used to display adware or any other reason the hacker chooses. 
  4. Keyloggers — pieces of code, usually installed without the user’s knowledge or permission, that track what keys are pressed. By doing that, keyloggers can gain access to personal data, such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.
  5. Screen scrapers — malicious apps that take screenshots, monitoring them for valuable information. 
  6. Tracking software — apps designed to track users’ actions and the system.
  7. Remote control software — a piece of code that serves as a backdoor for other malware.

Can Macs get spyware?

Although more secure than other operating systems, macOS is not bulletproof or 100% malware protected. In fact, plenty of malware attacks have been made on various scales in recent years. Therefore, Macs can get spyware, and it is why knowing how to get rid of spyware is crucial. 

Luckily, today you’ll learn to remove spyware and take additional precautions to boost your safety and security.

How to detect spyware on Mac

The answer to that question is the same way you would know that you got sick — observation and system monitoring. You can easily detect spyware on your Mac with noticeable performance changes. Macs polluted with spyware are slower, drain a battery faster, and tend to overheat. There are as well other signs that may hint at spyware infection: 

  • Noticing new preferences, toolbars, and extensions installed without your knowledge
  • Finding out that the homepage and default search engine were changed
  • Being bombarded with pop-ups and adverts
  • Seeing a black command line screen at the startup
  • Noticing unexplained spikes in resource usage (e.g., CPU) — you can use a built-in Activity Monitor for monitoring resources

If you notice any of these dysfunctions, check what’s taking up all your CPU. Use App Tamer for that. It’s an advanced CPU monitoring solution for Mac. App Tamer allows you to track processes and put caps on any app, forcefully slowing it down to avoid system paralysis.

Here’s how you can set limits in App Tamer:

  1. Open App Tamer.
  2. Click on the app you want to limit.
  3. Check “Slow down this app if it uses more than:”
  4. Type in the desired %.

How to get rid of spyware on Mac

Thankfully, while spyware is very annoying and potentially damaging, it’s usually not too difficult to remove. The easiest way to do it is to use a trusted antivirus tool to scan for spyware, and we’ll introduce our absolute favorite below. 

Scan Mac with CleanMyMac X

Use a dedicated tool like CleanMyMac X to find, neutralize, and delete spyware on your Mac.

When you scan your system with CleanMyMac X, this spyware finder instantly removes malware threats (ransomware, worms, cryptocurrency miners, and spyware). Therefore, you can rest assured that your Mac’s got a professional bodyguard.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Download CleanMyMac X for free and open the app.
  2. Select the Malware Removal tab.
  3. Click Scan.
  4. Click Remove.
adware found with malware removal module of CleanMyMacX

Talking about CleanMyMac X, its Malware Removal tool is a perfect spyware remover. However, it can do a lot more for spyware protection. Checking your Mac in real time, CleanMyMac X notifies you when there is a risk of spyware infecting your machine. It monitors Launch Agents and other places on your Mac for any unauthorized presence. That’s a bit like a gatekeeper.

How to prevent spyware

There are several tips that can help keep spyware away from your Mac.

1. Update your Mac to the latest version

Every new macOS version comes with additional security patches, which can be more effective in terms of protecting your Mac. That is why keeping OS up to date is vital. Luckily, it’s easy enough:

  1. Go to System Settings.
  2. Click General > Software Update. If you’re not running the latest macOS version, you’ll see a software update waiting to be installed. Click Update and follow the instructions. 
System Preferences - Software Update

It is highly recommended to turn on Automatic updates. This way, you will have all of the latest security patches installed soon after their release.

2. Check your Applications folder

Go to the Applications folder on your Mac and look for applications you don’t recognize. If you see any, you should uninstall them. However, don’t just drag them to the Trash. That won’t uninstall them properly and will leave potentially harmful files behind. Instead, use an app like CleanMyMac X to uninstall them.

CleanMyMac X uninstalls applications completely, removing all traces of it from your Mac. You can download it for free here. Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, do the following:

  1. Open the app from your Applications folder.
  2. Click on Uninstaller in the Applications section.
  3. Scroll through the list of applications until you find the one you want to get rid of.
  4. Select the box next to it. 
  5. Click Uninstall. 
  6. Uninstaller module in CleanMyMacX

3. Get rid of browser extensions you don’t need

Some spyware is installed in the form of browser extensions. These microprograms run alongside web browsers and provide additional features. They can be handy, but they can also be troublesome if installed without your knowledge or permission.

Here’s how to get rid of spyware by removing Safari extensions you didn’t install or don’t need:

  1. Open Safari. 
  2. Click on the Safari menu and choose Settings.
  3. Click on the Extensions tab and look through the list of extensions. If you see one you didn’t install or don’t want, click on it and hit the Uninstall button. 
  4. Repeat for every extension you want to uninstall. 

The process is similar for Chrome:

  1. Enter this chrome://extensions/ into the search bar and press Return. 
  2. Review your extensions. 
  3. Click Remove to delete those you don’t need.

If you prefer Firefox, follow these steps: 

  1. Open Firefox and click three horizontal lines. 
  2. Go to Add-ons and themes > Extensions.
  3. Next to the extension you don’t recognize, click ... > Remove.

Along with browser extensions, it’s also worth getting rid of cookies you don’t want. And the app we’ve mentioned above, CleanMyMac X, can help you with that:

  1. Click on the Privacy tool.
  2. Click Scan.
  3. Click on the name of the browser.
  4. Click the drop-down arrow next to Cookies.
  5. Select the box next to the cookies you want to get rid of.
  6. Click Remove.
CleanMyMac X - Safari in Privacy module

The last resort is to restore from a backup, either Time Machine or a third-party backup tool. Assuming you’ve been running a regular backup schedule, you can choose a snapshot from just before you noticed the spyware and restore from that. You should copy any documents you created or updated since the snapshot to another storage drive or online service first.

Best spyware removal tools

Proper malware scans require access to sensitive data stored on your Mac. That’s why we don’t recommend using free tools for that purpose. Because if they are free, there is no one responsible and no way of knowing they don’t contain any spyware themselves.

So, we recommend that you go with legit scanners like CleanMyMac X to deal with malware threats, add monitoring performance and CPU processes with App Tamer to your routine, and use ClearVPN to hide your web traffic and Step Two to enable 2FA codes.

Spyware sounds scary, and it can potentially damage you and your Mac. However, spyware removal is not that troublesome to perform in most cases. If you stick to our tips, it’s like a walk in the park.