7 MIN READ | Last updated: Sep 24, 2020 | By Adina Ailoaiei
Spyware has been making the news lately, and that’s enough to scare anyone into thinking their phones might be spied on.
But if you do have it, how can you be sure?
Here’s our list of 9 tell-tale signs someone is spying on you.
Let’s shed light on spyware
Unlike trojans or ransomware, spyware doesn’t directly cause damage to your system. It’s not an in-your-face type of malware.
Instead, spyware stays silent in the background, recording everything you do:
- The passwords you enter;
- The sites you visit;
- The messages you send;
- The people you contact.
To say the least, spyware is creepy and privacy-invasive.
It’s a crazy world out there
There are several reasons why people turn to spyware.
For example, in many cases, spyware is used by angsty parents who want to know what their offspring do online.
Jealousy can also be at play sometimes. People who don’t trust their partners might turn to keep tabs on them with software.
Some companies might use spyware to check on their teams, but, as you can imagine, that’s not legal.
Cybercriminals are also into spyware, relying on it for identity theft, blackmail, and stealing financial data.
None of these scenarios spell security.
9 signs you have spyware
If you’re worried your phone might be affected by spyware, here are the most common symptoms.
1. You use too much data
If you notice sudden spikes in your data usage, even though it’s business as usual, treat it as a red flag.
Spyware tools usually eat up a lot of data to send the collected information from your phone.
2. Your battery is getting drained
If you don’t spend too much time on your phone or leave apps open, and your battery dies quicker than before, pay attention.
Spyware software runs in the background with no interruptions, so you can expect your battery life to go down drastically.
3. Your phone is overheating
Since spyware uses so much data and battery, overheating is a given.
This is especially worrying if you’re phone is relatively new, because nowadays, phones are built to be able to cope with hotter climates without skipping a beat.
4. You hear weird sounds during calls
It’s not normal to hear odd clicking sounds at the beginning of conversations on your phone.
Unless you’re not in an area with poor coverage, this can be a sign of an app recording your call.
5. Your phone feels sluggish
If you don’t have an old phone, this shouldn’t be happening. Especially since most phones now have top-notch tech inside and get regular updates.
But since spyware uses so much battery, it slows down your device considerably.
6. You find odd apps or unauthorized charges
If someone can remote control your device, you can expect to see new things on it.
So, if you run into any shady ad-riddled apps on your phone or new billings in your App Store or Google Play Store for stuff you don’t remember getting, you should check your phone for spyware.
7. Your phone shows signs of activity when in stand-by
Is your phone waking up without you doing anything? Does your camera open for no apparent reason? Are you sending messages even if you’re not on your phone? Are you finding new bookmarks in your browser?
Those are classic signs of your phone being controlled remotely.
8. It takes longer to shut down your phone
When you shut down a device, it will first close all your apps safely, so you don’t lose any progress.
Shutting down spyware apps takes longer, because A, they’re not keen on stopping their activity. And B, they use so much of your phone’s computational power.
9. Your credit card is compromised
This only applies to people who have a banking or a payment app on their phones.
When a shady individual has remote control over your phone, it’s only natural to assume they can access your financial data, on top of everything else.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways for your credit card to be compromised. Don’t rule out identity theft, data breaches, or a stolen wallet. Don’t jump to conclusions and contact your bank for more info first.
Phones can easily get infected
If your gadget has spyware, someone put it there. And there are two ways for this having happened:
- It was physically installed: The perpetrator took your phone and added a spyware app to it, without your knowledge.
- It was installed remotely: You were tricked into downloading it yourself, or it got installed via one of those shady websites or pop-ups.
However, clear one thing up. Spyware apps are not readily available in the App Store or Play Store. The platforms have rules against them.
So, your phone settings need to be modified for spyware to work. Here’s how to check if you’re in such a situation.
For Android devices
To make sure you’re safe:
- Go to Settings;
- Tap on Security;
- Check if the Allow unknown sources box is ticked.
If it is, apps can be downloaded on your phone from third-party websites. If you did not do this yourself, you might be dealing with spyware.
For iOS devices
Unless your phone is jailbroken, it’s a bit more challenging to install spyware on your iPhone.
One of the most common ways to check for tampering is by looking for an app named Cydia. It’s the equivalent of the App Store for jailbroken devices.
There are also spyware apps that claim to work without jailbreaking, so keep an eye on other signs of infection as well.
If you want to check if your phone is infected, here are some of the most popular spyware apps:
Now, you won’t find these apps directly on your phone.
For example, FlexiSpy might install on your phone under SyncManager, which sounds rather inconspicuous. mSpy can sport a name like IphoneInternalService.
If you find an app that uses a lot of your data and battery, but you can’t seem to shut it down, do some research. You might be dealing with spyware.
What to do if you have spyware
If you suspect you might be affected by spyware, here’s what you should do.
1. Run a malware scan
Spyware is malware, so most anti-malware apps are able to pick it up.
However, most are only able to remove basic spyware apps. More sophisticated solutions can bypass detection systems, so this isn’t a simple fix.
Do this on another device, like your PC or tablet.
2. Change your passwords
If you suspect your accounts have been compromised, make sure to change all your passwords. Choose strong and secure passwords, and do not reuse them.
3. Enable two-factor authentication
After you’ve changed your passwords, enable 2FA for all the accounts offering you this setting.
4. Update your operating system
You must always have the latest security patches installed. They’re vital in preventing spyware from working properly.
5. Reset your phone to factory settings
In most cases, this is your best option for getting rid of persistent spyware.
Learn how to stay protected
No one wants to be spied on, but spyware is a stealthy threat. Here are some things you can do to protect your phone.
1. Don’t leave your phone unattended
The easiest way for someone to install spyware on your phone is by having access to it. Be mindful of where you leave it.
2. Lock your phone
PIN codes, face unlocks, and fingerprints make it harder for someone to use your phone without your consent. And a biometric login is harder to break than a 4-digit code.
3. Encrypt your files
Spyware apps can access files, too, like your photos or videos. Hide them behind a layer of encryption.
4. Use a VPN
Good VPN software prevents you from accessing malicious websites. This makes it harder to download shady apps over HTTP connections accidentally.
5. Don’t get apps from third-parties
Apps on the Play Store or App Store are checked to ensure they follow the platforms’ terms and conditions. If an app doesn’t comply, it’s taken down.
But on third-party websites, there’s no intense scrutiny.
6. Check the permissions
When you install an app, it might require some permissions.
For example, an online game needs internet access. A photo editing app requires access to your gallery.
However, when an app requests access to sensitive information like your messages or contacts without legitimately needing it, do not grant it. You’d be just risking your privacy.
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Spyware is surveillance. And, like most surveillance, it happens without your knowledge or consent.
If you think something weird is happening on your phone, trust your gut and dig for the culprit.
If you have any other questions about spyware, let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, stay safe and secure!