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Devices that spy on you: How to tell they’re doing it, and what steps to take

The latest gadgets can become your daily companions and make it easier to tackle chores, track your fitness goals, or even keep an eye on the kids. But how do you know you’re not bringing something into your home that will spy on you?

Devices that spy on you: How to tell they’re doing it, and what steps to take

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What devices are spying on you?

Cybercriminals can hack almost all devices that have a camera, a mic, or an internet connection and open the doors to your private life. Cybersecurity experts say our everyday household amenities capture details of people’s activities and share them with data giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and TikTok. These online services later create a profile and target you with ads on smartphones, computers, and tablets.

Voice-activated home assistants

Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and other home assistant speakers that use voice recognition software might tell you the weather or play a song without you lifting a finger. Still, they can also secretly listen to your conversations.

Sometimes, users accidentally trigger virtual assistants, and the devices record things they aren’t supposed to. These conversations then fall into the hands of third-party contractors working to improve voice recognition accuracy. But these records often contain enough data to identify users.


Cybercriminals can hack into unsecured computers and film their users without consent. They use phishing, brute force, and man-in-the-middle attacks to hack webcams and expose people through their webcams. We know that computers carry certain risks and that we should cover our cameras, even if it’s only with a piece of tape. However, we tend to forget that less advanced devices also have webcams that are even easier to hack.

Baby monitors and pet trackers also have built-in cameras and can be controlled from the comfort of a smartphone. Unfortunately, the majority of them come with default security passwords and can be hacked in a matter of minutes.

Smart TVs

As if tracking your viewing habits and sending them to TV manufacturers and advertisers wasn’t bad enough, hackers can now break into your TV and suddenly change the channels or turn up the volume. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that smart TVs run on basic processors and have very little room for cybersecurity features.

Hackers design various malware to infect smart TVs, record your conversations, and use the built-in camera to spy on you. Some malware allows the threat party to make it so your TV seems to be off while they do so.


Smartphones can listen to your conversations and track your location. Numerous users have noticed that discussions about a new dress or a new holiday destination resulted in targeted ads across several social media channels. Facebook and Instagram haven’t confirmed their use of such techniques and say this might be a pure coincidence. However, that wouldn’t be the first time social media giants secretly collected your data behind your back.


Step counters, fitness trackers, and smartwatches spy on you, too. It might appear that they don’t collect that much data or that the data isn’t significant – “Who cares how many steps I take a day?”

The truth is that these wearables track more than just your steps. They can log the frequency and the types of activities you take, your location, and your sleeping habits. In the wrong hands, such information can lead to a robbery or an assault.

Wireless earbuds

As convenient as they are for podcasts and music, wireless earbuds can also be an entry point for third parties to spy on you. Malicious actors can exploit the built-in microphone for hands-free calls to capture conversations without your knowledge. The Bluetooth feature may be vulnerable, too. Besides Bluetooth vulnerabilities, attackers may intercept the data transmission through firmware vulnerabilities, unauthorized devices connected to your earbuds, and compromised smartphone companion apps.

Smart home devices and IoT

The IoT consists of devices that can connect to the internet but are typically not expected to do so. These include coffee makers that prepare a cup of coffee before you get out of bed or thermostats that heat your house before you get home. All these devices can be controlled remotely from your smartphone.

Although they are designed to make your life easier, they also carry many risks. IoT devices weren’t developed with security in mind, which means they are excellent malware hosts and can easily be hacked into.

They might not be able to spy on you the same way a smart TV or a voice-activated speaker can, but they can help hackers toy with your home appliances (sometimes with expensive or deadly consequences):

  • Ovens can be turned on at any time.
  • Thermostats can be turned up or down, freezing your pipes in the winter, or heating your home in the summer.
  • Refrigerators can also be turned off while you’re away, leaving you with a pool of melted ice.

IoT devices store a lot of data about your life and your habits. This information can help local hackers determine whether you are home or not so they know when to break in.

How to tell if your devices are spying on you

IoT devices are our smart companions, simplifying daily tasks. Your fridge syncs with your phone, your wearable tracks your heart rate, and your thermostat perfects your home temperature. But they might be spying on your life details. Signs that your devices spy on you:

  • Unusual data usage. Received a hefty bill for your mobile data or noticed a sudden spike in data usage? These can indicate an intruder.
  • Weird device behavior. If your device reboots, slows down, or starts making strange noises out of nowhere, check for a security breach.
  • Unfamiliar apps or settings. Random apps and changed device settings without your knowledge may also signal a security breach.
  • Drained battery. The older the smartphone, the lower its battery life. But if your phone is fairly new and you suddenly start noticing that your battery drains rapidly, it could be a sign of malicious software running in the background.
  • Strange network activity. You must take action if you notice random devices connected to your network.
  • Pop-ups and ads. One pop-up here, another ad there — seems like a casual day on the web. But be careful, these might indicate malware.

Real-life spying cases

Hackers may turn your everyday companion gadgets against you to capture your most intimate moments without you even noticing.

Amazon’s Alexa became infamous after she recorded a private conversation and then accidentally sent it to a random person. Amazon says that Alexa only listens to you when she’s activated by voice command, but if that’s true, why did a stranger witness a private conversation about home improvements?

In 2016, researchers discovered that the Nest Thermostat could be hacked to reveal when homeowners were away. Not exactly the kind of thermostat you signed up for, right? A few years later, the same happened with smart lighting systems. An attacker in the USA monitored a lighting pattern in one family’s home to find out whether the residents were at home.

If this didn’t convince you, let’s look at how a baby monitor gave one family the scare of their life. A hacker in Texas took control of a baby monitor and threatened to kidnap their baby. It’s unnerving and unsettling when something that should make you feel comfortable makes you feel invaded and scared.

How to prevent devices from spying on you

While you cannot stop hackers from creating malware to spy on you, you can protect your devices from getting infected. Here’s how:

  • Keep your software up-to-date. Stop third-party snooping by patching your software. It’s a simple step that fixes known vulnerabilities.
  • Use strong passwords. We may sound like a broken record, but setting unique and complex passwords for your devices and accounts might help you keep intruders away.
  • Use a VPN. Invest in a trusty VPN to secure your online traffic and make it hard for hackers to access your internet activity. Advanced services like NordVPN offer a VPN for multiple devices to keep your whole household safe.
  • Enable two-factor authentication. It’s an extra layer of security for your accounts.
  • Use cybersecurity tools. A reputable antivirus program will help you detect and remove those pesky viruses from your device. Don’t forget your firewall and malware blocker, too.
  • Disable unused features. Hit the off switch on microphones and cameras when you’re not using them.

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