Our phones have become a huge part of our everyday lives and we store all manner of private and personal data on them. So, protecting this data from those that want to spy on it is more important than ever.
If your phone gets hacked, you might imagine there would be many telltale signs to look out for, such as: annoying pop ups appearing on the screen, being redirected to dodgy websites or even being bombarded with apps that we didn’t ask for. However, in reality, phone hacking can often leave little to no trace at all. So, in today’s article we’re asking the question – Can someone spy on your phone without you knowing?
What is spyware?
Spyware is a type of software used to steal data from a victim’s device. This software can be completely hidden from the user, so it’s very easy for this type of attack to exist for a long time without the user realizing. Once installed, it can give the hacker access to a wide range of very personal information such as:
- Phone call recordings, or even the ability to listen to calls live.
- Text & chat messages (WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, etc).
- Web browsing activity including access to email accounts, online bank accounts and social media accounts.
- Pictures, videos and audio stored on our devices.
Commercially available Spyware
The most commonly used spyware is purchased commercially and often extremely cheaply. For as little as $30, hackers can obtain the software required to hack someone’s phone.
For iOS devices, there is a process of bypassing Apple’s in-built security known as ‘jailbreaking’. This is usually a simple process requiring little technical knowledge. This process of jailbreaking, as well as the spyware itself, can more often than not be completely hidden from the user making it almost impossible to detect to the untrained eye.
For Android devices, there is usually no need for such a process. All a hacker would need to do is essentially tweak a few settings. For example, if they simply disabled Google Play Protect, then they would be able to install the spyware hassle-free.
Can it spy without your knowledge? Once commercial spyware is installed, the hacker can simply hide the app icon. This allows the spyware to continue functioning in the background and most people would never know that their phone was being spied on.
Family tracking apps are readily available on the various app stores. These are positioned as giving parents the ability to track their children’s devices to see where they are/have been, etc.
However, these apps are often abused and used for more malicious reasons. Tracking apps don’t require any special technical knowledge other than installing the app as you would any other.
Can it spy without your knowledge? Tracking apps aren’t as easily hidden, although they can be moved to seldom-used folders, away from the user’s view which can make them harder to detect. Usually if someone isn’t specifically looking for the app, it may take weeks or months for them to stumble across it – by which point the hacker has been tracking their whereabouts for some time.
How to detect spyware / tracking apps
Once a device is hacked, it’s likely that the spyware will remain completely invisible to the user. However, there are a few signs that can be a giveaway that spyware is installed:
- Device overheating – When spyware is installed onto a device, the extra processing power required to run it can massively increase the heat output of the phone.
- Reduced battery times – Along with the increased processing power being used up by the spyware, it will also use up extra battery and phones infected with spyware will usually have a much shorter battery lifespan.
- Slowed performance – Continuing along the same theme, phones that are infected with spyware will also have a significant drop in their performance levels.
- Strange behavior – This one is a bit ambiguous but if you are noticing strange things happening on your phone, then spyware may be to blame. Look out for weird things such as static noise over phone calls, strange emails and texts and random apps being downloaded to your device.
However, these are not always reliable and the only way to reliably detect most spyware is to use an effective spyware detection tool for your device:
Both of these apps can fully scan your device for installed spyware and will help you know for certain whether or not you’ve been hacked.
But Spyware isn’t always necessary
Sometimes, hackers will simply use legitimate apps already installed to spy on a victim’s device. Whilst this has limited functionality compared to installing fully-fledged spyware, it’s still possible to spy on someone using these methods.
For example, a hacker might change the account logged into an app such as Google Chrome in order to steal internet browsing data. Alternatively, they could change the settings in an app such as Google Maps or Apple’s ‘Find My (iPhone/iPad)’ to share the victim’s location with them so they can track their GPS location.
Can it spy without your knowledge? As you might expect, abuse of these apps is somewhat difficult to detect since the apps are already installed on your device meaning that their misuse can often go unnoticed. For the above examples, visible signs could be the wrong account logged into the Google Chrome app or the GPS icon constantly showing in the top bar of the device, indicating the location is being tracked in the background.
Backed up data
It’s possible, if a hacker knows the login details to your backup accounts (Google account for Android, or iCloud account for iOS devices), for them to download the contents of your phone or even create a clone of your device. Whilst this won’t give them access to your ‘live’ data, such as viewing GPS location or listening to phone calls, this will allow them to view and steal any data stored on the backup.
Tip: To protect yourself from this type of hack, simply turn on two-factor authentication for your account.
Can it spy without your knowledge? This type of hacking is easily hidden from the victim, since nothing is installed on their device. But signs like two-factor authentication being turned off or iCloud backup being turned on (if you didn’t turn it on yourself) can be indicators of this type of attack.