One of the main things that we worry about when it comes to our mobile devices is could somebody be tracking them? Not only tracking our physical location, but also tracking our activities such as who we talk to, what websites we visit, our login information for important accounts and even the pictures and videos we store on our devices. We are at risk because we depend on one device so heavily. That’s why we take mobile security so seriously here at Certo.
In this article, we’ll be walking you through the ways that someone can hack your phone, how they can track your location and activity, how you can detect any signs of this happening and finally, what you can do to stop having your phone tracked if you discover evidence of hacking on your device.
What are the ways a phone could be tracked?
There are many different ways a phone could be tracked. Some people think it’s as simple as knowing someone else’s phone number – however we’ve shown this to be false. The biggest threat to your mobile security comes from something known as spyware. This is malicious software that hackers use to collect private personal information from your phone and send it back to them so they can view it remotely.
Think of it as a sponge soaking up as much information about you as it possibly can. This software is usually physically installed onto your device and can be purchased commercially for as little as $30. As well as being incredibly cheap, this software is extremely simple to use – this type of hacking isn’t restricted to computer experts, anyone can do it.
Whilst both Android (Samsung, LG, Huawei, etc) and iOS (Apple) have their own protections in place to protect against spyware, it’s not impossible for hackers to completely bypass these protections by modifying the device’s software (called ‘rooting’ on Android or ‘jailbreaking’ on iOS). This then gives them deeper control over the device and allows them to install the spyware which will collect your information as well as making sure you are none the wiser by hiding it completely from view.
Another method involves using parental or family tracking apps (available from the Play Store or App Store) originally designed for parents to help keep an eye on their children. These apps are often misused and are installed onto the devices of their victim so that they can track their location. This is a tactic commonly used (but not restricted to) in marital relationships or even domestic abuse cases.
A third way that people can become a victim of hacking is via their cloud backups. If a third-party acquires login details for a user’s backup account (iCloud for iOS or Google Drive for Android) then it could be entirely possible for them to access whatever data was backed up including contacts, messages, images/videos or even a complete copy of the phone.
A final tactic that we often see is the use of legitimate apps (such as Google Maps) to track someone’s location. This can often be achieved using the app’s built in location-sharing feature. You can read more information about this type of hack here.
Am I being tracked on my phone?
Here are a list of ‘symptoms’ you should keep an eye out for if you are worried that your phone is being tracked:
- Is your phone Jailbroken or rooted?
- Are there any apps on your phone that you don’t recognize?
- Does your phone get hot after a short time?
- Are you experiencing unusually high data usage?
- Does your battery run out faster?
- Are you receiving unusual messages or emails (or have you in the past?)
- Does someone close to you know private things about you that you’ve not mentioned anywhere other than on your phone?
The quickest and easiest way to check for spyware on your device is to use security software that can scan your device. Here at Certo, we’ve developed our own anti-spyware solutions for both iOS and Android, designed from the ground up to defeat mobile spyware. Let’s look at each one:
Our Android app, Certo Mobile Security, is an app that can scan your entire device and check for any malware or security vulnerabilities. It will also check for apps that are tracking your location and allow you to manage the permissions for those apps, along with apps that are able to access your microphone, cameras and files. Finally, it will check that your device is not rooted, which is often required for the most invasive spyware.
Certo Mobile Security is completely ad-free and provides full anti-spyware functionality at zero cost. A premium upgrade is available which enables automatic scanning so you can ‘set it and forget it’ safe in the knowledge that your device will always be protected. Click the link below to find out more about Certo Mobile Security for Android.
iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch)
Unfortunately, Apple will not allow developers to create malware-scanning apps like we can on Android. We have to take a slightly different route.
Certo AntiSpy is a tool designed to scan your iOS device via a connected computer. This software will be able to quickly check your iPhone/iPad for data-stealing spyware installed on the device, any tracking apps including those legitimately available on the App Store, along with any signs of jailbreaking – a method that hackers often use to bypass Apple’s in-built security measures which allows them to see all of your personal data, track your location and listen-in on phone calls.
How to stop your phone being tracked
Once you’ve checked your device for spyware or tracking software, the next thing to do is remove it. We’ve split this section into Android and iOS because the hacking methods and steps to reverse them are different for each platform.
- If you’ve downloaded and installed the free Certo Mobile Security app, then you will be able to perform a scan that will reveal any spyware installed on the device. Once the scan has been completed and if spyware has been detected you will then be prompted to remove it with a single tap of a button.
- If you’re using any cloud services to back-up your Android device (such as Google drive) then you must make sure that you have enabled two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is a way of ensuring that even if a hacker has somehow discovered your login details for your account, they can’t access that account without a confirmation code sent to your phone via SMS text message. This prevents hackers from viewing all of the backed-up information or downloading a clone of your device.
- For so-called ‘legitimate’ tracking apps that are readily available on the Google Play Store, you should start by simply checking all of the apps on your phone. Investigate any that you don’t recognize and simply remove them if you don’t want them. Make sure to check app folders as well, as this is a way that some people try to hide this type of app. Alternatively, you can use Certo Mobile Security to quickly view all of the installed apps on your device that are tracking your location.
iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch)
- If you’ve used our iOS security tool, Certo AntiSpy, and it’s telling you that you have spyware installed on your device or that your device is jailbroken, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Firstly, make sure that your device is updated to the latest version of iOS. Installing a new version of iOS will undo any jailbreaking on the device and will restore the security features designed by Apple.
- If you are already up to date with iOS you can restore the device to factory settings. Note that this will also delete all of your files, pictures & videos along with your apps and their login information if you do this, so it’s worth backing up some of this information either to iCloud or iTunes.
- Revert to an earlier backup. Ideally, you will be regularly backing up your device and this will allow you to rollback your device to an earlier backup before the hack was installed.
- If you’re worried about your iCloud account being hacked, then the best thing to do here is to enable two-factor authentication. This will prevent anyone from accessing your account even if they have your password.
- For any ‘family/parental’ tracking apps (legitimately found on the app store) then the first option is to just search your device and manually remove any apps with the location permission that you don’t trust, not forgetting to check app folders as hackers will sometimes hide these apps from plain sight using this method. Alternatively, Certo AntiSpy can not only tell you about fully-fledged tracking software, but also about the types of legitimate apps that are commonly misused and pose a security threat.
We hope this article has helped you learn more about the different types of phone tracking available to hackers. You’ll now be better equipped to tell if you’ve been a victim and armed with the knowledge you’ll need best to protect yourself.
With the ever growing amount of sensitive and private data on our phones, it’s more important than ever to ensure they’re protected.