We all fear someone spying on us. It’s tied to the primordial fear of losing our autonomy. It’s even a popular trope in the horror entertainment industry.
That makes spyware a particularly scary prospect.
As scary as it might be, the media often paints an inaccurate picture of malware infection. In reality, no one will text We see you in scary-looking fonts. No one will call to tell you they know what you did last summer… erm, online.
We’re here to clear the air on all things spyware-related. Here’s our list of 9 tell-tale signs someone is spying on you.
Spyware is one of the most dangerous and invasive forms of malware. Get CyberGhost VPN to add a layer of encryption to your connection and keep snoopers at bay.
How Phones Get Infected with Spyware
If your phone has spyware, most likely someone put it there. That means a cybercriminal is after your financial data or someone’s trying to spy on you. There are 2 main ways your phone can get infected with spyware:
1. Remote Access
That usually means bundle apps, shady sites, or suspicious emails misled you to install the spyware yourself. Law enforcement agencies and governmental agencies can also remotely install spyware through government-mandated backdoors.
2. Direct Phone Access
That’s similar to setting up parental control apps, except spyware apps are not readily available in the App Store or Play Store. Either way, someone needs to change your phone’s settings for spyware to work.
How to Check for Installed Spyware on Phones
Here’s how you can check if someone tampered with your phone settings.
For Android Phones
- Go to Settings
- Tap on Biometrics and security
- Tap Install unknown apps
- Check if any toggle switch button is enabled
It’s a bit more challenging to install spyware on iPhones unless you jailbreak the phone. Look for an app named Cydia. Cydia is the App Store equivalent where you can download unapproved tweaks and jailbreak apps. It indicates tampering. Some spyware apps might work without jailbreak, so keep an eye for other infection signs.
How to Recognize Spyware Apps
What does spyware look like? You won’t be able to open a spyware app like you open Instagram and scroll through it. Only the person at the other end can do that.
You can still search for spyware apps though.
|Spyware App Name||Available for Android||Available for iOS|
You won’t find all these apps directly on your phone. Spyware apps camouflage in hopes you won’t delete them. A couple of examples are FlexiSpy and mSpy. You might find FlexiSpy with a generic icon on your phone under the name SyncManager in the Apps menu, while mSpy can sport a name like IphoneInternalService. That’ll make you think they’re built-in settings apps.
How can you detect these apps then?
You can google names to check if you’re dealing with spyware. Sometimes that won’t do the trick though. You can then install Antivirus software to reveal true app names.
It’s also helpful to recognize any weird phone behavior. It might indicate it’s infected with spyware. Here are 9 signs you should look out for.
9 Signs You Have Spyware on Your Phone
Unlike Trojans or ransomware, spyware doesn’t directly cause damage to your system. It’s not an in-your-face malware. Instead, spyware works behind the scenes, recording your every move. If you’re worried your phone is infected with spyware, check the 9 signs showing you might be exactly on point.
1. You Use Too Much Data
Most of us will rarely have high spikes in data usage unless we travel or face an emergency. You can generally gauge how much data you use based on your online activity. Here are some examples for reference:
- ⌚ HD streaming takes about 900MB/hour.
- ⌚ Video conferencing, like Zoom or FaceTime, takes about 480MB/hour.
- ⌚ Online gaming takes about 60MB/hour.
- ⌚ Streaming music takes about 30MB/hour.
Spyware tools eat up a lot of data because they rely on a constant active connection. They need one to send collected information from your phone.
2. Your Battery Is Draining Fast
Just like you should monitor your data usage, you should also keep an eye on your battery life. A phone battery’s average lifespan ranges from 3 to 5 years and it’ll degrade over time. That said, sudden battery drainage can indicate a spyware infection.
Unless you carry an overused phone or find yourself spending more time than usual on your phone, your battery dying quickly isn’t a good sign.
3. Your Phone Is Overheating
If your battery dies quickly and your data gets used up, you can be sure spyware takes a toll on your device. Another thing you’ll notice is your phone overheats for no apparent reason.
Commercial phones have a normal internal temperature of around 37° to 43° C (98.6° to 109.4° F). When you use it to make a call, stream, or play games, the temperature goes up to 45° to 50° C (113° to 122° F). Charging your phone will also slightly raise the temperature to around 47° C (116.6° F).
A lot of factors can affect your phone’s temperature, like ambient temperature, battery issues, or weather. Spyware raises your phone temperature above 50°C. You’ll feel it hot to touch. That can damage your phone and is cause for concern.
4. You Hear Weird Sounds During Calls
Notice odd clicking sounds? An airy drift? Static noise?
Unless you’re in an area with poor coverage, it’s a sign someone is eavesdropping. Spyware is a likely culprit. It can record your phone calls and produce weird background noise in the process.
In some cases, you’ll also notice these weird sounds during video conference calls like FaceTime or Zoom. If this issue persists and isn’t tied to a specific app, you’re possibly dealing with a spyware infection.
5. Your Phone Feels Sluggish
Most smartphones last from 3 to 5 years. When the hardware gets outdated, you’ll start to notice apps taking longer to load, taps taking longer to respond, and websites taking longer to open. That’s normal.
Spyware takes it to the next level. You could have a brand-new phone, and it will be slow to respond to basic functions. This is because spyware takes up a lot of resources. It overloads your phone’s memory, battery, and CPU, so your phone will feel sluggish to the point of frustration.
6. You Notice Suspicious Changes and Charges
Don’t remember installing that funny-looking app? Can’t find an explanation for the latest Google Play charges?
Some spyware offers the perpetrator remote control of your phone. That means they can access and make various changes to your device. They can add or delete apps, make unauthorized payments, and even mess up your settings.
If you’re dealing with this spyware type, it can compromise your financial details. You should quickly take measures to protect your accounts.
7. Your Phone Shows Signs of Activity When in Stand-By Mode
Remember, some spyware invites perpetrators to remotely control your phone. The biggest remote control red flag is when you notice signs of activity when you’re not using your phone.
That includes things like:
- 🚧 The screen lights up for no reason.
- 🚧 Your phone randomly wakes from sleep mode.
- 🚧 Your camera opens for no apparent reason.
- 🚧 You send messages even if you’re not typing anything.
- 🚧 You find new bookmarks in your browser.
- 🚧 Your browsing history is full of shady sites.
- 🚧 Your phone stores private information screenshots.
8. Your Phone Takes a Long Time to Shut Down
Whenever you shut down a device, the operating system will first safely close all apps in the background. That way, you don’t lose progress, prevent corrupted files, and prevent apps from crashing.
Nobody designs spyware with a shutdown option. By its nature, spyware 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.
9. Your Notice Strange Credit Card Activity
The number one target for spyware is your financial credentials. Cybercriminals target you through your banking app or any payment platform with a linked credit card.
Cybercriminals rarely use spyware just to troll you. They mainly use it to steal financial information and impersonate you. You might notice small suspicious charges first. After all, no one panics for a $3 charge.
After a while, they’ll get their hands on your IBAN, credit card number, CCV, SWIFT, and whatever else helps them transfer funds. If you notice any suspicious activity, contact your issuing bank immediately. They’ll advise you further.
How to Remove Spyware from Your Phone
If you suspect a spyware infection, you should immediately take steps to remove it. Here’s how:
1. Run a Malware Scan
Spyware is a form of malware, so a good antivirus should be able to pick it up and quarantine it.
Some more sophisticated spywares masquerades as legitimate apps to bypass detection. Parental control apps and nanny cams are the most impersonated apps due to the similar permissions they require. If your phone acts weird but your antivirus doesn’t signal any potential threat, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the gutter.
2. Change Your Passwords
Whenever you have reasons to believe spyware is compromising your privacy, change your passwords immediately from another device. Otherwise, cybercriminals can just get your new passwords through spyware. Choose strong and secure passwords and consider adding some extra protection, like two-factor authentication.
3. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
2FA strengthens your accounts’ access security. Besides your password, 2FA requires you to validate your identity through another method. Most commonly, it’s a code sent via text message or email.
2FA codes change with every login and are available for a short period. That makes them more secure than a single password especially when most people never change their passwords. Securing your account with 2FA also prevents cybercriminals from accessing your accounts when they already have your passwords.
4. Update Your Operating System and Apps
Like a lot of malware variants, spyware relies on outdated and ineffective security measures to infect your device. That’s why you should regularly update apps and operating systems. Updates come with crucial security patches to hinder malware from exploiting vulnerabilities. For example, an up-to-date antivirus recognizes the latest cyberthreats and an up-to-date system can prevent spyware from working properly.
5. Reset Your Phone to Factory Settings
If you find yourself dealing with a particularly resilient spyware, your last resort is resetting your phone to factory settings. That process wipes all your files, accounts, and information from your device. More importantly, it’ll wipe out all spyware programs.
Normally, I’d recommend having a backup before a full factory reset, but you could back up spyware remnants by mistake. Weigh your options carefully before you decide a factory reset is the best option for you.
How to Protect Your Phone from Spyware
Defense is the best offense! Spyware is a stealthy threat. It takes a long time for people to realize they have a little spy on their phone. That’s why you should learn how to protect your phone from spyware.
🔒 Don’t Leave Your Phone Unattended
It’s easier for someone to install malware on your device if they have direct access to it. Always be mindful of where you leave your phone and who can access it.
🔒 Lock Your Phone
A phone lock is a great security measure to have. PIN codes, face unlocks, and fingerprints make it harder for anyone to use your phone without your consent. Biometric logins are harder to break than a 4-digit code, so make good use of them.
🔒 Use CyberGhost VPN
CyberGhost VPN redirects your traffic through a remote tunnel to keep trackers and snoopers off your back. It also encrypts your data so if cybercriminals intercept your traffic, they won’t be able to make any sense of it. CyberGhost VPN also redirects your traffic through HTTPS sites to encrypt your connection.
🔒 HideYour Files
Spyware scans your files and folders and can even access your private photos and videos. Use CyberGhost Photo Vault to hide your media behind an encryption layer.
🔒 Avoid Apps from Unverified Sources
App developers need to abide by both the Play Store and the App Store’s terms, conditions, and security standards. Apps also clearly need to specify what permissions they require. Although it’s not a perfect system, stores take down apps in violation of these terms. Third-party websites can have apk files, but no one can verify these aren’t laced with malware.
🔒 Check Every App’s Permissions
Whenever you install a new app, it will ask for permissions. An online game will require internet access, while a photo editing app will need access to your gallery. Any suspicious permissions are a red flag. Pay attention to apps asking for camera, microphone, messages, or NFC access. These can compromise your privacy.
Spyware Isn’t Going Anywhere Soon
Like most malware, spyware won’t go anywhere anytime soon. While ransomware and adware are cybercriminals’ weapons of choice, spyware has many other user types:
- 🚩 Angsty parents use it to keep tabs on their children.
- 🚩 Jealous spouses use it to monitor their significant others.
- 🚩 Governments use it for espionage.
- 🚩 Dictators use it to track dissidents and journalists.
- 🚩 Some companies also use spyware to have a clear overview of their employees’ activity in an effort to keep them productive.
Spyware is outright illegal in some countries. In others, it borders a legal gray zone. One thing’s for sure. It’s not good for your digital privacy and anonymity.
Spyware is one of the most common surveillance tools in the current digital landscape and it can be a lot to deal with. You can’t catch it red-handed. It’s best to trust your gut.
If you think something weird is happening with your phone, don’t be afraid to dig further. You’ll either find the culprit and stop the malicious code from doing more harm, or it’ll just turn out to be a false alarm. Either way, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Cybercriminals and other parties use spyware to get ahold of your phone information. They can directly install it on your phone if they get actual access or they might trick you into downloading it yourself. You can check the tell-tale signs your phone has spyware and learn to recognize if it’s infected. If you have any suspicions, you should immediately protect yourself.
Anyone can fall victim to a cyberattack and it’s no fun! That’s why the best treatment is prevention. Use CyberGhost VPN to encrypt your connection, stay clear of suspicious downloads, and always lock your phone. Learn how to stay safe and stir away from spyware.
How do you know if someone is spying on your phone?
Whether you have an Android or an iOS phone, malicious parties can install spyware on your phone to snoop on you. You’ll notice strange behavior, like high battery usage, an elevated temperature, and poor performance. It’s usually not enough to alarm you until it’s too late.
Ideally, you want to protect yourself from a spyware infection. Use CyberGhost VPN to encrypt your traffic, never leave your phone unattended, secure your passwords, and don’t download shady apps.
Is there an app to see if someone is spying on your phone?
You’ll find anti-malware and anti-spyware apps able to notify you of unwanted entry to your device. However, some sophisticated spyware hides as parental control or nanny cams and can bypass detection.
You have no guarantee an app will detect spyware and notify you if you have a snooper lurking around, so you should keep an eye out for signs your phone has spyware.
What’s the purpose of phone spyware?
Cybercriminals develop spyware with one purpose in their mind: to spy on you. Whether it’s on Android or iOS, spyware constantly monitors you and what you do. That includes your messages, passwords, transactions, photos, and even your phone calls. These details help cybercriminals steal your identity, your payment information, and other private details.
Does a VPN prevent smartphone spyware?
Get CyberGhost VPN to encrypt your online traffic. Encryption makes it more difficult for cybercriminals to track you online and launch cyberattacks on your network, which in turn makes it harder to stealthily install spyware on your phone.
CyberGhost VPN has its own DNS servers and it also forces your traffic to go through HTTPS, which keeps you away from shady sites containing malware. Keep in mind, VPNs can’t help you if you already have spyware on your phone, so make sure to protect your devices from threats.