When an online ad seems far too accurate or someone in your life seems to know more about you than you’d ever mentioned, it’s natural to ask the question: “is someone spying on my phone?” In today’s world, one must take every precaution in keeping their mobile device secure. Perhaps you already protect your phone from physical breaches with a passcode and fingerprint or facial biometric—but are those methods enough?
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
There is a way someone can monitor your mobile phone without ever touching the actual device. Spyware (a portmanteau of spying software) and stalkerware can be installed on a phone without the owner’s knowledge, allowing an attacker to steal information, track activity, and more. But how can you tell if someone has installed spyware on your device? And if you confirm that, yes, there is someone spying on my phone, how can it be removed?
While it’s unnerving to think that someone could be watching your phone without your consent, identifying and removing it doesn’t require much technical know-how. Let’s dive in.
How to tell if someone is spying on your phone
Spyware is a sneaky form of malware that doesn’t cause direct damage to your operating system. It can be difficult to detect, working quietly in the background to record your every move. Read on for some signs that someone might be spying on you.
1. Abnormal data usage
Traveling and emergencies aside, people will seldom have large increases in data usage. So if you notice your mobile data usage is unusually high, it could be a sign of spying apps.
Because spyware tools rely on a constant active connection, they can eat up a lot of data. If someone is spying on your mobile device, they’re likely using your network connection to do so.
2. Your phone is getting slower
When your phone is old or full of apps and photos, it’s expected to get slower. You may notice longer load times for apps and websites, and delayed responses to taps; that’s normal.
But you should be worried if most of your data is in the cloud, storage space isn’t an issue, and your phone is less than 2 years old.
Spy apps and spyware can be very destructive to your phone’s performance. They use so much processing power that your phone becomes sluggish while performing basic tasks like opening apps. This drains both the memory and CPU of your phone, making it run so slowly that you become frustrated by its performance.
3. Longer device shutdowns
You may never notice this since people rarely turn off their phones these days. However, if it takes a long time to shut down – or doesn’t shut down at all – it could be due to interference from spy apps on your device.
Spyware isn’t designed with a shutdown option. Instead, it naturally pushes for more resources to remain active. That means you’ll notice a considerable lag when you try to shut down your phone because the spyware is resisting. Try powering down your phone a few times; if a shutdown problem persists, it’s likely to be spyware.
4. Rapid battery drainage
With processing problems and slowdowns, it should not be too surprising that someone spying on your phone is also accompanied by rapid battery drainage. When spy apps are constantly recording and transmitting data, they’ll burn through power quickly.
The average lifespan of a smartphone battery is three to five years, and like the rest of your device, it will degrade over time. So, if your phone battery is old the issues you’re having with it may have developed over time.
However, if you notice your phone dying quickly, even without spending much time on it, a spyware infection may be to blame.
5. Overheating of device
By now you can be sure spyware takes a toll on your device, even if it doesn’t cause intentional damage. You’ll also notice that your phone overheats for no apparent reason.
Your phone should not get hot when you’re not using it, regardless of what apps you have running. If your device heats up even when idle, and this happens often, then it’s almost certain that someone is spying on your phone.
Your phone’s temperature can be affected by many factors, such as ambient temperature, battery issues, or weather. Although your phone may get warmer when you make a call, stream, or play games, it’s normal. Charging a phone also causes the battery to heat up slightly.
Spyware can increase your phone’s temperature to the point that you can feel it hot to the touch. That could damage your device and potentially cause burns.
6. Idle device activity
Your phone should not restart unless you’ve set it to do so. If your phone reboots frequently and unexpectedly, and it’s not fixed through an update, spyware could be the source.
If your device’s screen lights up without any obvious indicators—no calls, messages, or push notifications—you may want to check and see if there is someone spying on your phone.
Nothing quite screams “device infection” like random pop-ups. We’re not talking about the cookie notices and ‘disable ad blocker’ messages you see when you access a website, either.
If your mobile phone is pushing notifications for fake virus alerts, odd warnings that can’t be closed, or adult material, it is most assuredly infected by adware.
7. Phone call interference
Does your phone ever seem to have poor reception despite a strong signal? You might hear a clicking, static noise, odd hissing, or an airy echo rather than lose the connection. These sounds can indicate that someone is trying to eavesdrop, listening in on your conversation.
The quality of mobile phones has improved so much that the days of hearing random sounds and distant voices during a phone call are long gone. In some cases, you may also hear these strange sounds during video calls with apps like FaceTime or Zoom. If you keep hearing these kinds of interference issues and they’re not resolved by simply resetting the call, you’re likely dealing with a spyware infection.
8. Poor screenshot quality
There is a rumor that keyloggers—the type of spyware that records your typing—can negatively impact the quality of screenshots. So, if you’re noticing blurriness in your screenshots or they’re not looking as clear as they usually do, consider that you might have a keylogger installed on your phone.
9. Strange account activity
Credit card charges
Your financial credentials are most assuredly the target of any cybercriminal’s spyware campaign. They may use a keylogger to steal your information and then hack into any app with a credit card linked to it.
It’s unlikely that you will notice small, suspicious charges right away; people don’t usually notice the odd $2 charge. After some time though – and many login sessions or purchases later – they may be able to acquire your credit card number or PayPal/Venmo login, and use these details to transfer larger funds from your bank account.
Linked accounts logins
By exploiting security flaws in iCloud and other platforms, spyware apps can access your information. If you suspect that your iCloud account has been breached, or if you see unusual activity on platforms like Google and Facebook, it is important to take immediate action to protect yourself.
Incoherent text messages
We all receive weird, spam text messages full of marketing stuff and political donation requests.
But if you notice that your phone is sending and receiving strange, incoherent text messages, it may be infected with spyware. These messages are often full of strange characters and symbols, as well as words in a different language.
10. Autonomous app installations (Android phones)
If your Android phone allows you to download and install apps from outside the Google Play Store without first asking for permission, you might have mobile spyware on your hands. Double-check by reviewing the Storage permissions in the Settings of your Android.
Did you spot any unfamiliar apps on your device? Then it’s likely someone is spying on your phone.
These are just the most common red flags that your phone is being tracked, tapped, or monitored by spying software. If you’re experiencing more than just one or two of these instances, you may indeed have someone spying on your phone.
So, how do you prevent someone from spying on your phone?
If you suspect that software is being used by someone spying on your phone, you need to remove it. These steps will help you get started:
Step 1: Change Your Passwords
To protect yourself against spyware compromising your privacy, change your passwords immediately from another device to avoid giving cybercriminals access to your new passwords through the spyware. Make sure you choose strong, secure passwords and consider adding some extra protection, like two-factor authentication. 2FA prevents cybercriminals from accessing your accounts when they already have your passwords.
Step 2: Update Your Operating System and Apps
Preying on outdated and ineffective security measures, spyware can infect devices with relative ease. That’s why it’s important to regularly update apps and operating systems. To stay safe online, you need the latest security patches to prevent threats from exploiting vulnerabilities.
Step 3: Run a Malware Scan
Spyware is a form of malware, so a good antivirus should be able to pick it up in a scan and eliminate it. If your phone continues acting weird but your antivirus doesn’t signal any threats, don’t assume that everything’s okay. Some spyware mimics legitimate apps to bypass detection and gain access to the information they want. Parental control apps and nanny cams are the most impersonated apps because they require similar permissions.
Step 4: Look For Spyware Apps
A spyware app on your phone may be installed with a name like “spy,” “monitor,” or other similar unsubtle words. It’s more likely, however, that the app is disguised to look innocuous. Review every single app on your device. Seriously, scrutinize each one. If you don’t remember installing it, open it to verify it’s the kind of app it appears to be. If it won’t launch, that’s a red flag.
How to Recognize Spyware Apps
Spyware apps are difficult to open and view. You can search for them, but they’re not always easy to find. Spyware apps disguise themselves to avoid detection. You might find FlexiSpy under the name SyncManager in the Apps menu, while mSpy can sport a name like IphoneInternalService within Settings.
Can’t tell if the app your found is legitimate or spyware? Search for the name!
|Spyware App Name||Available for Android||Available for iOS|
Step 5: Reset Your Phone to Factory Settings
This is your last resort to get rid of spy apps. Resetting your phone to factory settings is the nuclear option for dealing with a particularly stubborn strain of spyware. This process wipes all your files, accounts, and information from your device and would eradicate most spying programs infecting the phone. We normally recommend creating a data backup before performing a factory reset, but doing so risks storing spyware remnants by mistake.
Still, if you feel confident in your ability, you can choose to back up important, irreplaceable data to a quarantinable cloud drive so that you can attempt to safely retrieve it. But do not directly restore your phone from your cloud backup, or you’ll most assuredly reinstall any spyware.
How to prevent spyware from infecting your phone
Now that you’re free from cell phone spies, here are ways to protect yourself from future intrusions. Follow these steps to improve your phone’s security and prevent it from being targeted with spyware:
For more information, check out our article on how to know if your phone is hacked.
What’s the purpose of phone spyware?
The purpose of spyware is to monitor its users. This can include messages, passwords, transactions, photos, and even phone calls. While ransomware and adware also make up parts of a cybercriminal’s toolbox for financial gain, spyware has many other users. Some people use spyware to keep tabs on their children, spouses, and colleagues. Governments, dictators, and companies use it for more sinister purposes.
How can I tell if there is someone spying on my phone?
An assortment of common phone problems—like overheating, high battery usage, data spikes, and random restarts—can usually indicate whether your phone has been compromised. Both Android and iOS phones can be subject to malicious software capable of tracking your location, reading your texts, and listening in on phone calls.
Is someone watching me through my phone?
It’s unlikely that government surveillance agencies are watching you in real-time; they analyze data after it’s been collected. Though if you’re concerned about being spied on by someone close to you, it’s a possibility and a feature equipped in some spyware apps.
How do phones get infected with spyware?
If your smartphone has spyware, it was probably installed by someone who wants to access your financial data or see what you’re doing. There are essentially two methods in which spyware can be installed onto your phone:
The easiest way for someone in your life to spy on your phone is to install a monitoring app directly to the device. These can be found right in your device’s official app store, no jailbreaking or third-party APKs are necessary. It does, however, require an attacker to not only install the spy software but then change your phone’s settings so that it can operate properly from their device. That’s why it’s crucial to keep an eye on your device at all times and minimize opportunities.
The most common ways people accidentally infect their phones with a hacker’s spyware are through shady links, third-party apps, and malicious email attachments. Government agencies and cybercriminals can also install spyware remotely by exploiting software vulnerabilities. Be sure to keep your software updated, and use discretion when deciding whether to engage in certain activities.
Yes, it’s true that someone can install spyware on your phone without even touching it. What’s worse is that users of mobile spying software are not just hackers, but nosey people in your life. After reading this article, though, you’ll know how to tell if that’s happened.
It pays to trust your instincts. If you think your phone is being tampered with, investigate further. Once you know your phone’s security has been compromised, you can take steps to reverse it. And even if it turns out to be a false alarm, it’s better than no alarm at all.
This content was originally published here.