In today’s world, technology has made it possible for us to stay connected with one another in ways that were once unimaginable. Our smartphones and other devices allow us to communicate, work, and play from almost anywhere. However, as convenient as these devices may be, they also come with their own set of risks, including the possibility of being spied on.
While you might think that no one would want to monitor your activities, the truth is that there are a few reasons why someone might want to keep tabs on you without your knowledge. These reasons could be financial, such as to steal your credentials and commit fraud or theft, or personal, such as to keep an eye on your actions and who you’re speaking to.
In this article, we’ll cover how someone could monitor you through your phone, how to detect such activity on your own device, and what to do if you suspect foul play.
How could someone monitor my phone?
Spyware is a type of malware with the purpose of spying on a user and collecting their personal information. Spyware gives the hacker remote access to the majority of the data on a phone, including messages, photos, GPS location, keystrokes, and even the ability to listen in on phone conversations.
The hacker would usually require physical access to the device in order to install these apps, but anyone could do it in a matter of minutes, even those who aren’t very technically minded.
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GPS tracking apps
These are apps usually marketed as a safety tool for parents or vulnerable people, however, they are all too often abused. These types of apps are especially common in controlling or abusive relationships and could be used by a partner, spouse or other family member. This is an easy way to monitor someone’s location, requiring nothing more than the installation of an app, usually from the official app store.
Abuse of existing apps
Sometimes the apps that you know and use all the time can be abused to share your location with someone else. Apps like Google Maps or Apple’s Find My iPhone have features that allow the location of the device to be shared with another person. Again, this can easily be set up on the victim’s phone if the hacker is able to get hold of it for a short time. This also doesn’t require installing any extra apps onto the device.
What to look out for on your device
Below is a list of seven features and functions to check if you think someone is watching you. None of these indicators by themselves would necessarily mean that your phone is under surveillance, but if you find one or more, it would be wise to scan your phone for monitoring software using a tool like Certo AntiSpy (for iPhone) or Certo Mobile Security (for Android).
- Your Phone is getting hot, or the battery is running down fast – A phone with spyware installed will be working really hard to continually send data from the phone to the hacker in the background. This will run the battery down much quicker than before. However, you should be aware that as phones age the battery also degrades. If your phone is an older model, poor battery life alone isn’t necessarily an indicator of spyware.
- Your phone takes a long time to shut down – If your phone is taking much longer than normal to shut down, this could be another sign of spyware. When a phone shuts down, it has to complete any tasks that are currently in progress. If one of these tasks is sending data to a spyware server, this could dramatically extend the time required to shut down.
- Your Phone is Jailbroken or Rooted – Jailbreaking an iPhone or Rooting an Android is the process of removing manufacturer restrictions in order to gain access to areas of the phone that would normally be protected. It is a practice commonly used by hackers in order to install malware. It can be difficult to spot but look out for a strange app called “Cydia” (for iPhone) or “SuperUser” (for Android) suddenly appearing on your home screen. There are also free apps available that can check this for you.
- Unexplained high data usage – All mobile surveillance software works by sending data from your device back to the hacker over the Internet. This means that you are likely to see a sharp increase in data usage if spyware is present on your phone. Check your bill and keep track of your data usage. You can also check your phone settings to see which apps are using the most data.
- Unknown app(s) with permission to access your location, camera or microphone – Checking which apps on your device have permission to use these features can be a good way to reveal malware, or the use of a GPS tracking app that you didn’t previously know about. You can check this on iPhone by going to Settings > Privacy, or for Android go to Settings > Apps > Permissions. From here you can view each feature and the apps which have permission to use it. If there are any apps you don’t recognize then this could indicate that someone has installed something on your phone to monitor you.
- If you have an iPhone – iTunes Wifi Sync is enabled – Some iOS spyware works by stealing data from a backup of your device stored on a computer. These backups are typically automated using the “iTunes WiFi Sync” feature that is available on all iOS devices. If your device is set up to back up in this way and you haven’t done this yourself then it’s possible that this may have been done with malicious intent. To check your device, use the free Certo WiFi Sync checker app.
- If you have an Android – Play Protect is disabled – Play Protect is Google’s built-in security scan and it will be included with most modern Android phones. Surveillance spyware usually requires Play Protect to be disabled for it to function on a victim’s phone. If you check your settings and find that Play Protect is disabled on your phone, then this could be an indicator of malware. To check this, open the Google Play Store app, tap Menu then tap Play Protect.
What do I do if someone is monitoring my phone?
If you have found one or more indicators that someone might be monitoring you through your phone, or if you are still worried, don’t panic. There are a number of steps that you can take to protect yourself. Remember that you can also use a dedicated iPhone or Android spyware scanning tool for full peace of mind.
Reboot your phone – As simple as this seems, it can be really effective. Some forms of spyware rely on the phone being left switched on for long periods of time. Simply restarting your phone means that it will no longer be able track you.
Update your device and apps – Another easy initial step you can take is to update your device with the latest software. Manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, etc) regularly release new updates to help protect against newly-developed spy software and hacking methods.
Some methods of cell phone hacking also rely on an older version of the manufacturer software being installed in order to bypass the in-built security. This means that installing the latest update, and keeping your phone up to date, can guard you against many types of spyware.
Use a security app – For Android devices, many antivirus/security apps are available with the capability to block and remove active threats on your phone.
For Apple iOS devices, security apps aren’t allowed to do a virus scan on the phone, but there are several apps that can check your security settings and identify some signs of device tampering. Then, for a full scan of your iPhone you can use Certo AntiSpy, which is able to perform a complete virus scan of any iOS device via a computer USB connection.
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Turn off location sharing – This will help you if someone is abusing your existing apps to monitor your location. The location sharing setting can be found in Google Maps or the Apple Find My app.
Enable two-factor authentication for your Apple or Google account – Hackers that target online backups of your phone require continuous access to your account. You can block this access by enabling two-factor authentication on your Apple ID or Google account.
Factory reset your phone – This is a last resort that should only really be used if nothing else works. This method will completely erase all data from your phone and will return it to the state it was in when you first opened the box. This will also wipe your personal data too, so make sure you back up any contacts, photos, videos, etc that you want to keep.