Spyware removal on 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.

The controversy over Cambridge Analytica accessing the Facebook profiles of tens of millions of users has made the importance of our private data headline news. However, while Facebook providing access to your data to third parties may be undesirable and possibly unethical, it’s not illegal. On the other hand, using spyware to access information about you is unlawful.

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.

There are four main types of spyware: 

1. Adware

Adware is probably the most common type of spyware. It’s also the most obvious because the information gathered by the spyware is used to display 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.

This is what adware looks like

As you can see, it executes commands to "download offers" that a user will see on their computer.

2. Trojans

Trojans are 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

Cookie trackers are similar to adware in that they are 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

A keylogger is a piece of code, usually installed without the user’s knowledge or permission, that tracks what keys are pressed. By doing that, the keylogger can gain access to personal data such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.

Spyware has one distinctive trait among all kinds of malware: it operates without your consent or knowledge. Meaning, it can secretly get access to your:

  • Browser activity and location
  • Contacts and content
  • Emails and chats
  • Display and keystrokes
  • Passwords and usernames
  • Printer, microphone, webcam
  • Personal data like financial details

Can your Mac get spyware?

I wish I could give you the good news by saying that your Mac is bulletproof and 100% malware protected. But I’d be lying, claiming that knowing that plenty of malware attacks were made on various scales in recent years.

Yes, macOS is relatively secure compared to other operating systems, making it difficult for spyware to infiltrate your Mac device. However, the hard truth is Mac is not immune to malware, period. Why?

The primary cause of infection is, unfortunately, users themselves. Talking specifically about spyware here, it mostly gets to your Mac when you decide to install spyware-infected software (obviously not knowing that particular software is malicious). Then you grant it admin-level permissions, and voila: it has free access to your device along with private data.

Apple is doing everything it can to secure and further tighten up macOS. For instance, the software you try to install on your Mac today must be from legit developers. Sadly, such malware prevention methods are still not enough.

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

How to find 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. Apps are sluggish and unresponsive; bandwidth is out of control, a browser is brimming with ads, etc.

If you noticed all 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. Launch 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 remove spyware from your Mac

Thankfully, while spyware is very annoying and potentially damaging, it’s usually not too difficult to remove.

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, your Mac’s got a professional bodyguard.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Download the free version of CleanMyMac and launch the app.
  2. Choose the Malware Removal tab.
  3. Click Scan.
  4. Click Remove.
adware found with malware removal module of CleanMyMacX

Talking about CleanMyMac X, I can't recommend its Malware Monitor feature enough. 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 protect your Mac from spyware

1. Update your Mac to the latest version

macOS has built-in tools to remove known malware, including spyware. 

  1. Go to the Apple menu and click About this Mac.
  2. Click 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. 
  3. If you are running the latest version of macOS and no update is available, restart your Mac. When it restarts, it will scan for known malware and remove it.

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

  1. Launch it from your Applications folder.
  2. Click on Uninstaller in the Utilities section.
  3. Scroll through the list of applications until you find the one you want to get rid of.
  4. Check 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 like Safari and Chrome 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. Launch Safari. 
  2. Click on the Safari menu and choose Preferences.
  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 press 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 Enter. 
  2. Review your extensions. 
  3. Click Remove to delete those you don't need.

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. Check 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 I 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 my advice: go with legit scanners like CleanMyMac X to deal with malware threats. Add monitoring performance and CPU processes with App Tamer to your routine. Also, use ClearVPN, a convenient tool 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. And with CleanMyMac X, it’s like a walk in the park.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.