How to get rid of spyware on Mac, iPhone, and iPad

One of the best things about Apple devices is that they are incredibly secure and get far fewer viruses than other devices. However, that doesn’t mean they are immune. There have been plenty of incidents of malware harming Macs and iOS devices in recent years. Thankfully, though, it’s still relatively rare for them to be infected with spyware, and when it happens, it’s not too difficult to get rid of it. In this article, we will provide tips on removing spyware from Mac and, as a bonus, iPhone and iPad.

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.

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 the app you want to limit.
  3. Check “Slow down this app if it uses more than:”
  4. Type in the desired %.

How to detect spyware on iPhone and iPad

Some of the signs listed above may hint that your iOS device is infected with spyware. These include poorer battery performance, overheating, noticing changes in browser settings, and getting bombarded with pop-ups and adverts. Other tell-tale signs that your iPhone or iPad may be infected with spyware are spiking data usage, frequent app crashes, and seeing apps you haven’t installed. 

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 cleaner 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 remove spyware from iPhone and iPad

On an iOS device, removing spyware is also a comparatively easy-to-do thing. You will have to take several steps, though. 

1. Update your device

As noted, spyware may sneak onto your iOS device due to security flaws. For example, some time ago, iPhone was susceptible to Pegasus spyware for this reason, and iPhone users were urged to update their devices to deal with it. Basically, keeping your device up to date is the best spyware removal and prevention tip because of security patches that come with every new iOS and iPadOS version.

The steps for updating iPhone and iPad are the same: 

  1. Unlock your device. 
  2. Go to Settings > General > Software Update. 
  3. If an update is available, follow the on-screen instructions to install it. 
  4. While in the Settings app, ensure that the Automatic Updates feature is turned on. 

2. Find and remove suspicious apps 

Another spyware removal tip is to detect and get rid of malicious apps. It may be anything you haven’t installed on your device or an app after downloading which you’ve started noticing any of the signs we described above. 

Like with updating the device, the steps for deleting apps on iPhone and iPad are the same:

  1. Find the application you want to remove. 
  2. Press and hold its icon and choose Remove app from the pop-up menu.
  3. Choose Delete app. 

3. Factory reset your device

If the above steps haven’t worked, you may need to factory reset your device. It wipes all contents and settings, including spyware. The main challenge is that you will need to have a backup from the time when you haven’t noticed the symptoms of spyware to restore your iPhone or iPad after a factory reset. 

The steps for factory resetting iPhone and iPad are also the same: 

  1. Unlock your device and go to Settings > General.
  2. Navigate to Transfer or Reset [Device]. Depending on your device, it will say iPhone or iPad. 
  3. Choose Erase All Content and Settings.
  4. Enter your Apple ID or passcode is asked. 
  5. Confirm that you want to erase your device and wait for the factory reset to complete. 

If you have a pre-spyware backup, restore your iPhone or iPad from that backup (find detailed steps here). If not, set it up as a new device.

How to prevent spyware on Mac, iPhone, and iPad

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 the Safari menu and choose Settings.
  3. Click 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 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.

Preventing spyware on iPhone or iPad

Just like with Mac, there are some tips that will help you avoid spyware on your iOS device:

  1. Keep your device up to date. It’s recommended to have Automatic Updates turned on.
  2. Update your Apple ID password from time to time, making sure that your password is complex enough and not reused in other accounts (Settings > Apple ID > Password & Security).
  3. Enable two-factor authentication if you haven’t yet (also in Settings > Apple ID > Password & Security).

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 or iOS device. 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.

Frequently asked questions

What are the main types of spyware? 

There are several main types of spyware. The most common ones are adware designed to collect user information and generate adverts or pop-up windows based on it, Trojans that look like legitimate apps, keyloggers aimed at tracking keys that are pressed and stealing personal data, remote control software serving as a backdoor for other malware, and different tracking apps like screen scrapers or cookie trackers.

    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.

    What about iOS? Can it get spyware?

    Like Macs, iOS can be infected with spyware. The cases are rare, but it is still possible. Spyware can be installed on iPhone or iPad either physically (when someone has access to your device) or remotely (via a malicious app). It may happen due to security flaws in iOS.