Your smartphone stores a great deal of personal information. Let’s face it, and your whole life is on that thing.
You use your cell phone daily, sending emails and text messages, making calls, listening to voicemail messages, taking and sharing videos and photos, using social media, and so much more.
What if someone was able to access all of that personal data? That could be a disaster. But why would someone spy on you? What would they care about the information on your cell phone?
There are multiple reasons why someone might want to monitor your smartphone-based activities.
Your significant other (or ex-significant other) could be wondering what you’re up to when they’re not around. You could have crucial business-related information stored on your device. If you have any money at all in your bank account or anything left on your credit limit, someone would love to steal that.
So, is someone spying on your phone? Are they using cell phone spying software? How do you tell when someone is watching you through your cell phone? What can you do about it if they are? Those are excellent questions, and they are the reason I wrote this article.
Even if you protect your smartphone with a strong password, it’s still possible to be hacked. Seemingly innocent Android apps have been discovered to contain spyware, and if you’ve jailbroken your iPhone, someone can install spyware on your device.
How Do I Know If Someone Is Tracking My Phone?
If your employer issues you an iPhone or iPad, there’s a good chance that it has Supervised Mode enabled—a mode introduced by Apple in iOS 5 that allows your company more control over their devices and can restrict features such as keyboard shortcuts, Messages and changing passcodes.
A device that has monitoring or spy software installed on it will behave strangely than the ones with no such tampering. Below are some signs your phone is hacked or tracked with the help of spy software, and your activities are being monitored.
While some signs are more brutal to pick up on than others, if you stay aware of how your device usually performs, you can detect if something is going on with your device.
Here are the ten ways to tell whether or not someone is monitoring your smartphone.
Unusually High Data Usage
Has your monthly data usage spiked recently? Is your device using more data than usual, yet you haven’t changed your online habits? That could indicate that someone has installed spyware on your device.
Lower-quality spy tools will try to send as much data about your device back to their home base (AKA the bad guys) as they possibly can. This can use large amounts of data.
On the other end of the spectrum, some spyware makers are pretty skilled at it, and their sneaky apps are much more selective with what info they look for and send back home. This makes detection a bit tougher.
It all comes down to making sure that you stay aware of your monthly data usage and pay close attention to any sudden spikes in use that you might see.
While you can contact your wireless carrier to check how much data you’ve used, you can also check on your device. This means you can quickly check data usage without the need to search around on your provider’s website or app for data usage information.
How to Check Cellular Data Usage on Android
To check your cellular data usage on an Android 9 device, do the following. (The process should be similar on other versions of Android.):
- Open the Android Settings app.
- Tap “Mobile Network” (It’s in the “Network & Internet” section.)
- On the Mobile Network screen, tap “App Data Usage.”
- Here, you can view your current cellular app data usage.
How to Check Cellular Data Usage on an iPhone
To check your cellular data usage on an iPhone running iOS 14, do the following. (The process should be similar on other versions of iOS and iPads running iPadOS.):
- Open the iOS 14 Settings app.
- Tap the “Cellular” menu option.
- In the Cellular menu, tap the “Usage” menu option.
- On the Usage screen, you can view the data usage for the current month.
Cell Phone Shows Signs of Activity in Standby Mode
While you should expect your iPhone or Android phone screen to light up when you receive an incoming call, message or most other types of notifications, your smartphone’s screen shouldn’t be lighting up for no reason while it’s in standby mode.
If you see your device’s screen light up, hear unexpected noises or sounds and then you don’t see any new notifications on the screen, something could be up.
Is your smartphone rebooting for no apparent reason or without manually rebooting it? Someone may have unauthorised remote access to your smartphone.
Unexpected reboots may indicate someone has remote admin access and can reboot your device at will. This would also tell them they have all sorts of other access to your device and the personal data stored on it.
Or, it could mean the latest app or operating system you recently downloaded has a bug in it. Check for new updates for the OS or app. See if you can duplicate the device reboot by using the app that was open when it happened.
On your Android device, you can install and run antivirus or anti-malware security software to scan your device. iOS users will find that antivirus scanners are not available, and in the sandboxed iOS operating system, it’s more likely that there is a bug in an app or in the OS that is causing the reboots.
Odd Sounds During Calls
In the days of analog cell phone networks, weird noises in the background and unstable connections were to be expected. However, today’s all-digital cell networks usually provide references that are stable and primarily noise-free.
So, if you hear weird noises in the background or (even worse) listen to a voice that doesn’t belong to the person you called, there is a possibility that someone is monitoring or recording your conversation.
Unexpected Text Messages
Have you received unexpected messages with weird characters in them, or have your friends or other parties reported receiving creepy or offensive messages from your phone?
This can be a sign that you have spyware or malware installed on your smartphone. SMS worms spread themselves through the online world by sending text messages with links embedded in them. If the victim taps the link, the worm can infect their smartphone.
On your Android device, you can install and run security software such as antivirus or anti-malware to scan your device. iOS users will likely not have to worry about these types of worms, as they target Android devices for the most part.
Deteriorating Battery Life
If you see your device’s battery life begin deteriorating rapidly and unexpectedly, that could mean your battery is old and in need of replacement. Or, it could mean that your device is infected with spyware, and the additional load it’s putting on your smartphone is draining the battery quicker than usual.
Spyware monitors all of your on-device activities and sends information about these activities back to the bad actors that infected your device. Shortened battery life often goes hand-in-hand with increased data usage due to the activities of the spyware.
Taking screenshots, copying and pasting text, recording your conversations, and possibly taking photos or recording video can increase battery life at an alarming rate. This is especially obvious when your smartphone is supposedly idle.
If you’re not sure whether it’s just an old battery or actual spy software, test this by trying a different set of batteries or trying your device’s battery in another machine. Then, monitor the battery usage.
Sorry iPhone users, your device’s batteries are not removable. But, you can make a Genius Bar appointment, and they can check your battery for you. iOS 14 users can take advantage of a new privacy feature that alerts you when an app on your device uses its camera or microphone.
If an app uses your iPhone’s built-in microphone, you’ll see an indicator light up at the top of your device’s screen.
While it is perfectly normal to see either of these indicators light up when apps are using either the camera or the mic, seeing them light up when you’re not actively recording video or audio should serve as a warning sign that something might be up.
Determining Which Apps Have Access to Your Device’s Microphone or Camera
It’s easy to check your device to find out which apps currently have access to your device’s microphone or camera.
On the iPhone, do the following:
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap “Privacy” in the Settings app.
- Tap either “Microphone” or “Camera” in the privacy menu.
- On the next page, you can view which apps have access to the selected feature. You can also toggle the entry on or off in this menu.
On an Android (9) Device, do the following:
- Go to the Settings app.
- Tap “Apps & notifications.”
- Tap “App permissions.”
- Tap “Camera” or “Microphone.”
- Here, you can view which apps have access to the selected feature. You can also toggle the entry on or off in this menu.
Increasing Battery Temperature in Idle Mode
While increased battery temperature can be a sign of multiple technical issues, it can also indicate that unauthorised activities, like spyware, are occurring in the background.
If you haven’t used your smartphone recently, and it’s just been sitting idle on your desk, it shouldn’t be warm or hot to the touch. If it is overly friendly, spyware could be working behind the scenes, collecting information and sending it back to home base.
Increased Device Shut Down Time
Your smartphone, much like a Mac or Windows PC, attempts to shut down all active processes before turning itself off or when it is rebooted.
And, much like your computer, occasionally, those processes can hang up and either prevent or greatly slow the shutdown process. While this can happen to any device, you may notice that it happens more often than usual if your device has been infected with spyware.
You may notice that your smartphone takes longer than usual to shut down right after you’ve finished an active period with your mobile phone. This could mean the spyware is working in the background, saving its ill-gotten information and sending it back to the home base.
Difficulty in Shutting Down or Rebooting Your Device
In addition to slowing the shutdown process of your smartphone, spyware can also prevent your device from shutting down or rebooting completely.
Again, this can be caused by a harmless app misbehaving, but if it just started happening recently or is happening more often than not, your device might be infected with spyware.
Your Cell Phone Is Growing Increasingly Slower
High-end smartphones made in the last five years should run fast and not show many performance issues during day-to-day use. If you notice your smartphone is lagging, performing much worse than usual, or is suddenly running out of resources like memory or storage space, it might be infected with spyware.
This is tougher to tell with older smartphones or low-priced budget handsets like you get off the rack at Walgreens. But, if you pay attention to how your smartphone usually performs, you can generally tell if something is going on.
How to Check for Spy Software on an iPhone?
Apple disapproves of installing spying or monitoring tools. That’s why, if someone wants to install spy software on your phone, they will first need to jailbreak your device. Jailbreaking the iPhone will install the Cydia app on the iPhone, which can give away the jailbreaking. So, if you found the Cydia app on your iPhone and didn’t jailbreak your device, then it means someone else did the deed without telling you and not with a good intention.
Spyware installed on the subordinates’ work phones is one of the most well-known tracking techniques. Do you know how to detect such software or how to protect yourself from it? In this article, we present everything that each employee should know about the topic.
Jailbreaking means removing the security restrictions that were implemented on iOS by Apple. Jailbreaking an iPhone may give better access to the core functions of iOS, but it can also make your device vulnerable to many security risks.
- It becomes effortless to install a spy app after jailbreaking the iPhone.
- Malware or other malicious apps can quickly get access to your iPhone core functions, decreasing its performance.
- It will expose your personal information and user accounts to possible hacking.
- There is also a risk of bricking your iPhone while trying to jailbreak it.
Rooting an Android device is the Android version of removing restrictions on the device OS and gaining superuser access to its core functions. But like jailbreaking, Rooting Android also has many security risks associated with it.
- You would be able to receive Over-the-air or OTA updates.
- Giving root access to malicious apps will make your personal information vulnerable.
- A malware app can install some other malicious apps without your knowledge after rooting.
- Viruses and Trojans may attack your device.
How to Find and Remove Spy Software on Your Smartphone
As mentioned above, there is no lack of spying apps available for smartphones. A few popular examples are:
- Highster Mobile
All the spyware listed above can monitor and record text messages and phone conversations.
With these monitoring apps, a bad guy can take control of your mobile phone’s microphone and listen to everything that happens in your immediate surroundings or even records your phone calls.
Furthermore, the more advanced applications can even steal your passwords, use your camera to physically spy on you, or even lock your cell phone entirely so you can’t use it anymore.
So, is there a way to find out whether spyware is installed on your device? If so, how can you remove it? Here’s how.
Solution for Android 9 Devices
The following instructions are for Android 9 devices. Your cell phone or mobile device may be running a different version of Android. However, the process should be similar on many versions of Android. Android device vendors can also make changes to settings menus, so your layout may look different.
- Go to Settings.
- Find “Apps & notifications.”
- Click on “See all apps,” “All apps,” or something similar – On that screen, you will find a list of installed apps. Once you’re on that screen, look for app names that include terms like “spy,” “monitor,” “stealth,” “track”, or “trojan.”
- If found, look up the name of the app on the internet. If it turns out that the app is suspicious, delete it.
However, keep in mind that many spy apps do not use the actual name of the monitoring tool but instead use a fake name to hide it. You should delete any unknown apps on your device.
If you’re suspicious, we recommend visiting your cellular provider’s nearest store or going to an electronics store. Their tech team can help you delete any file that belongs to spy software.
In addition, you can also use the Google Play Store “Google Play Protect” feature to scan your installed apps for any harmful behaviour. It won’t detect all spy apps, but it’s another weapon to battle the nosy apps. Do the following:
- Go to the Settings app.
- Tap “Security & location.”
- Tap “Google Play Protect.”
- Tap the “Scan” button.
Your apps will be scanned for any suspicious behaviour.
Solutions for IOS Users
Apple’s iOS and iPadOS operating systems are locked down, preventing apps from being installed outside the App Store.
You can indeed jailbreak an iOS device, which allows installing apps from other sources. However, jailbreaking requires physical access to your mobile device, making it more challenging for a bad guy (or a nosy spouse) to install spyware on the device.
While this will prevent installing some of the nastiest spyware available out there, Apple does allow some apps in their App Store that can be used as spyware.
These apps are usually marketed to parents for monitoring their kids’ usage, GPS location and online activities. Unfortunately, a suspicious partner, employer or other nosy individuals can also use them to track your usage. But, keep in mind that they would need access to your mobile device and know your device passcode and iCloud password.
mSpy is one of the apps available in the App Store for tracking purposes, and if you read the reviews of this app and similar apps, many of the reviews are from users looking to catch a cheating spouse. (After all, if you want to keep tabs on your kids’ GPS location, Apple includes their “Find My” service that does just that as a built-in service in iOS.)
If you’re afraid that someone has installed spyware on your iOS device, changing your iCloud password will, in most cases, stop the app’s monitoring for tips on creating a strong password.
You can also search for and delete the app from your mobile device by entering the App Store app and searching for “spy” or a similar search term.
If an app shows “OPEN” in the list, that means the app is installed on your device. Find the app icon on your device’s Home screen, then tap and hold on the icon until a pop-up menu appears. Tap on “Remove App” from the pop-up menu. Bye-bye spy app.
Admittedly, there have been reports of security and privacy vulnerabilities discovered in iOS in the past, allowing access by certain strains of spyware and malware.
Although these vulnerabilities have been fixed by now, there are always new threats popping up from time to time. Luckily, Apple does a decent job of keeping these bugs squashed with iOS updates, so be sure to keep your iPhone or iPad updated. (Go to the Settings app, tap “General,” then tap “Software Update” to check for available updates.)
If your iPhone or iPad has been out of your sight for an extended period, you can update your device by following the steps in the previous paragraph.
You can also update iOS by connecting your iOS device to your Windows PC or Mac and update the operating system via iTunes (or via Finder on macOS Catalina or higher). This should remove any jailbreak while disabling any spy app requiring a jailbroken device.
Solution for Windows Phone Users
I’m just kidding, and there isn’t a solution. That’s because there isn’t any good spyware available for the Windows Phone platform.
This is likely due to the lack of success of the Windows Phone platform, meaning there isn’t much of a financial incentive to write spyware for the Windows Phone platform.
Your Last Resort: Do a Factory Reset
A factory reset is a last-resort option for both Android and iOS cell phones. Resetting your cell phone to its factory settings will delete all third-party apps – which means any spy software will be removed as well.
If you elect to do this, we strongly recommend creating a backup of your contacts, photos and other important files you don’t want to lose. Trust me, and you will miss them once they’re gone.
Factory Reset Process for Android Users
Again, this process may vary on your Android device. Check with your mobile device’s manufacturer for more information.
- Go to Settings.
- Tap “System.”
- Tap “Reset options.”
- Tap “Erase all data (factory reset).”
- Tap “RESET PHONE.”
After resetting your cell phone to its factory settings, we suggest that you download and install an app called AppNotifier that will notify you whenever a new application is installed on your mobile phone. Once the app is installed, whenever someone installs something on your phone on the sly, you should receive a heads-up about it.
Factory Reset for iPhone Users
- Go to Settings.
- Find “General.”
- Find “Reset.”
- Click on “Reset All Settings.”
- Enter your device passcode.
- You’ll be warned one last time that you’ll be resetting all settings and that your Apple Pay cards will be removed. Tap “Reset All Settings.”
Another way to reset your iPhone back to the factory settings is via iTunes.
- Connect your iPhone to your computer.
- Open iTunes (or Finder on macOS Catalina or later).
- Click on “Restore iPhone.”
How To Keep Your Phone Protected?
To make sure that you don’t need to know the signs your phone is hacked with a spy app, you must keep it protected at all times. Here is how you can protect your phone from spy apps.
Use a Password on the Lock Screen:
Since all spy apps need physical access to be installed on the target device, if you keep your phone password protected, they won’t be able to install the spy app on it. Aside from installing spy apps, it will also protect your phone from unauthorised access.
Don’t Root or Jailbreak Your Phone:
Jailbreaking or rooting the phone may allow malware to install other apps on your phone without your permission, which can also include spy apps. So, either you take extreme care in installing apps after rooting or jailbreaking your phone, or don’t do it to protect yourself from being monitored.
Install a Security App:
You can minimise the risks of installing spyware or malware on your device by using a security or antivirus app. These will automatically detect and inform you about any malicious app installed on your phone.
Keep Your Device up to Date:
Always keep your device firmware and OS up to date to fix any security vulnerabilities the old firmware might have.