We all know the feeling. You’re scrolling through your phone, and there it is. An ad that you can tie back to a recent conversation with a friend. Tap or click here for simple steps to make advertisers stop tracking you.
Bad habits could spill even more of your secrets. If you go the easy route and use your Facebook or Google account to log in to other sites and apps, knock it off. Tap or click here to see how much of your data Big Tech and others are getting freely.
Maybe it’s not advertisers or Big Tech tracking. Here’s a check to see if there’s something very sinister going on – a copy of everything you do on your PC or Mac is being gathered and sent to who knows who.
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.
PC users: Follow these steps
• 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.
Mac users: Follow these steps
• 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.
LISTEN UP: 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
I know. 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.
Worried someone has been poking around your computer? Here are clues someone has been snooping.
I’ve got a lot of great advice in this episode of Kim Komando Today. First, you’ll learn how never to lose a text message again. I’ll also tell you how to protect your nude photos from hackers. (This was based on a real listener question!) Plus, where to put your router for the best Wi-Fi, how to find spyware and a few other tech tips that will make your digital life easier.
Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”
Looking for more tech tips? USA TODAY has you covered.
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.