Spyware can be a tricky form of malware to detect. It hides on your computer and, as the name suggests, spies on your activity. It can steal information including passwords and bank details, all without you being aware. The good news is, there are ways to check whether you have been infected with spyware, and then remove it should you find you have.

There are many ways that spyware can find its way onto your PC or laptop. It may have been bolted on to untrustworthy software you’ve unwittingly downloaded, or installed itself after you clicked a link in an unsolicited email.

If you’ve noticed that your machine is slowing down, or that network activity is taking place when it shouldn’t be, spyware could be to blame.

How to detect spyware

In order to find out for sure whether you have spyware installed on your machine, you’ll need to use an anti-spyware tool. This could be a dedicated tool, or better yet part of a security suite that’ll also check for adware, viruses, trojans, root kits and all manner of other malicious software.

Ideally, you’ll already be running security software on your computer. This is your first line of defence, and helps prevent you from getting infected in the first place.

If you suspect you have spyware on your machine and your security package isn’t picking it up, we’re going to need something more surgical to remove it. First of all, run a scan with your current security software to make sure it has cleaned up everything it can.

If you haven’t got a security suite installed, we’d recommend installing one. Our top picks are Bitdefender, Norton or ESET. You can see our complete run down of the top ten in our round-up of the best antivirus.

In the majority of cases, a decent antivirus package will detect spyware on your machine, so if your scan comes back clean it’s unlikely you are infected with spyware.

How to remove spyware

If your security suite detects spyware on your computer, it’ll help you work out the next steps to remove it. It’s recommended you back up any important files and documents just in case they are corrupted in the removal process, but keep in mind that you don’t want to back up the entire contents of your computer in case one of the files includes the spyware.

Once removed, it’s important that you continue to use an antivirus product to prevent more spyware from being installed in the future. Refer back to our round-up of the best antivirus packages here to help you choose one that suits you.

If you’re having a larger issue with malware, have a look at our guide on how to remove a virus from your PC or laptop.