Is my phone bugged? A practical guide to find out if your phone has been bugged.
For most people, the concept of bugging a phone is something they only recognize from spy films. In their minds it is a highly technical operation that requires specialist knowledge and equipment and is about as likely to happen in their lives as James Bond is likely to abseil down their chimney.
While they would be right to conclude that bugging a phone in the sense of installing a physical device is unlikely to happen, covert listening in the form of hacking software is all too common.
Who might bug my phone? And is it legal for someone to bug my phone?
There are various reasons why someone might want to keep tabs on activity on your phone. What we see most often is that a controlling spouse or partner is using spyware or bugging software to assuage or feed their feelings of jealousy or need for control. These pieces of software can utilize the in-built features and hardware on your phone, for example, the microphone, camera, and GPS location mapping. This gives people access to not only who you are calling and texting, but the photos you take, your browser and social media activity, and your location at any given moment. They can even listen in on your phone conversations as they happen.
This type of intrusive monitoring can fall into a legal grey area if your partner or spouse has bought or pays for your phone. But if you own your device and pay the bills yourself it is illegal for a third party to install bugging software onto it without your consent.
Another potential spy might be your boss. Many employers would admit that they would love to have a window into their employees phone and online behaviours in work hours, but a few may take the step to install software to make it a reality.
FlexiSpy has an employee monitoring feature that is ostensibly used to check for security breaches and misuse of company assets, but it can also be used to spy on your emails and phone calls, as well as any other activity on your phone or computer. If your phone has been issued to you by your workplace this would be even easier for them to do. Check our list below of tell-tale signs that you are being monitored through your device.
Apps like Mspy are outwardly framed as parental control software and marketed towards protective parents and guardians. They can use the software to make sure their child isn’t accessing dangerous or inappropriate material online and check in on their correspondence to watch out for things like bullying. They can also track their child’s location, so if they are ever in any trouble, they will be able to find them.
This is a legal use of this kind of app if your child is under 18, and outwardly this might seem like a good thing; after all everyone wants children to be safe online. However, others would argue that this is a dangerous habit to form and oversteps someone’s privacy in a way that can erode trust.
Pretty much, anyone
The fact of the matter is that anyone who has access to your mobile device could potentially install monitoring or bugging software on it. It is incredibly easy to use this kind of software and it can be installed onto any Android or iOS device in a matter of minutes. For this reason, vigilance is key and if you suspect that someone has bugged your phone, however farfetched you may think that sounds, it is important to check it out.
How do I know if someone has bugged my phone?
Below is a list of questions that might indicate that your phone is bugged. None of these are a cast iron confirmation on their own, but if you find yourself answering yes to the majority of these questions then it would be worth investigating further.
- Is your phone Jailbroken or Rooted? This is especially suspicious if you didn’t do it yourself.
- Has your data usage suddenly gone up and you don’t know why?
- Is your battery suddenly running down very quickly and you don’t know why?
- Look through your apps carefully. Are there any that you don’t recognize, and do they have permission to access your location, camera or microphone?
- Does your phone take longer to shut down?
- If you have an Android device, is your Google Play Protect disabled?
- If you have an iOS device, is iTunes Wi-Fi Sync enabled and you don’t recall enabling it?
How to know for sure?
If you answered yes to three or more of the questions above, it might be worth scanning your device to check for any bugging software. There are a number of options available to you to do this.
For Android devices you can download a variety of anti-virus or anti-spyware apps that can do a full scan of your device and tell you if bugging apps are present. One of these is our own app; Certo Mobile Security.
iPhone and other iOS devices are a little trickier. Apple do not allow anti-virus or anti-spyware apps on their devices. If you are interested in why they have made this choice you can read about it here. Because bugging software can still pose a threat for iOS devices, we have have developed our own tool; Certo AntiSpy that can run a complete scan for bugging software on an iPhone.
How to protect yourself from phone bugging
After scanning your device, you may or may not have found something suspicious on your phone. Luckily, you can protect yourself, your device and your privacy and stop this from happening to you in the future.
Most of the time physical access to your device is needed to bug it. This means that having a strong passcode that no one else knows is your first line of defence. You can also implement two factor authentication wherever possible. This might seem like overkill to some people, but it can really make a difference when it comes to protecting your device. The second thing you can do on an ongoing basis is to keep your software up to date. Every new update that your provider releases patches up holes and vulnerabilities that can be exploited. So even if it takes some time and is inconvenient, it is really important to install all of the updates as soon as they are available.
Best practice in your app store is another key protective measure. Use a good security app to monitor your phone to alert you of any bugging threats, and make sure you only use the official app store to download anything. Apps in unofficial stores are usually blocked from the public by Android and Apple for a reason. They often contain viruses and other malware that can harm your device. For the same reason you should refrain from clicking any links in unsolicited texts and emails. If you are unsure of the validity of an email or text do not click on it.
If you have any questions or need help with your device, please get in touch on our contact page.