It’s not 1984 just yet, but with overreaching government surveillance programs, rampant spyware, and a growing number of bad actors, it’s virtually impossible to stay secure. Truth be told, everyone’s trying to get at what’s on your cell phone – and it’s working. Since getting rid of our phones isn’t an option, securing them is more important than ever. Unfortunately, many of us are still struggling with the idea that what once was a tiny device mostly for calling and texting has morphed into a microcomputer that is susceptible to many of the same virtual threats that our laptops and desktops are. Though that sounds daunting, there’re plenty of ways to stop someone from spying on your phone.
How to tell if your phone is being spied on
Most spyware tools are not that hard to identify as they cause bugs. Simply pay close attention to the way your mobile device functions be it an iOS or Android phone. Here are some pointers that could indicate that your phone’s compromised:
- Excessive battery drainage
Excessive battery drainage is usually caused by resource-intensive activities such as gaming, streaming or browsing the web. However, if you ever notice that your battery drains without any significant use of the phone, it could indicate the presence of spyware. Usually, such software uses a substantial amount of your device’s resources while active.
Since spyware apps are designed to send data from your mobile device to the hacker’s C&C (Command & Control) server, excessive data usage could indicate that you’ve been infected. Don’t ignore disproportionate data drainage as a sign. It’s a good idea to track your network usage on a regular basis; that way, you’ll be able to spot unusual spikes that could indicate devious activity.
- Activity on your device while it’s on standby
This is another sign that people tend to overlook. You should take note if your phone runs significantly slower, starts lighting up while on standby, or takes more time to power on or off. Whether you have an Android device or an iOS one, you can check your app activity via the settings menu.
- Receiving unusual or suspicious texts
Some spyware tools use text messages to receive commands and interact with their owners. A simple text can initiate GPS tracking, enable your microphone/camera, or start other invasive processes without your knowledge. Such text messages often seem like gibberish coming from an unknown sender. Ignoring them, however, could end badly.
Spyware, which is primarily used to eavesdrop on phone conversations, can often give itself away by making weird sounds. These include white noise, beeps, crackles, and echoes. While such disruptions can be attributed to bad reception, it’s best not to take chances and check your device for suspicious activity and intrusive apps.
How to detect and remove spyware from your Android device
If you suspect your Android has been infected with malware, it’s most likely going to be an app, so that should be the focus of your security efforts.
- If your phone is exhibiting malware symptoms, shut it off. You can use another device to look for a solution and you don’t want the malware stealing any more of your data than it already has.
- Do some research. What were the symptoms? Is anyone online complaining about the same issues? You may even find that others have already gotten to the bottom of things and identified an app you use as the culprit. Don’t forget that this is your goal – to discover which app might be spying on you.
- Start your Android up in safe mode (the instructions on how to do so may vary from device to device). This will ensure that only the essential and trusted apps that shipped with your phone will be active on startup. Is the symptom gone? If so, you almost surely have malware on your hands. If you know which app you’re looking for, simply remove it now. If not, you can try turning apps on one by one until you see the symptoms return to identify which app is responsible. If the symptoms only appeared recently, it’ll be likely that you got the app recently as well, but you can’t be 100% sure.
- If removing suspect apps doesn’t help, you may want to reset your phone to its factory settings. This will wipe out any malware, but it’ll also delete your saved passwords, all of your other apps, and any other data you’ve saved on your phone. Make sure anything you don’t want to lose is synced elsewhere!
- The last step is damage control. This will be easier if you know what the app was and what sort of information it stole. Change your passwords, delete your cookies, call your bank – do what it takes to make sure that any stolen information can’t be used against you. If you don’t know which app was spying on you or what it stole, this might be tougher to do, but it’s important to ensure that you can’t be targeted for fraud or identity theft.
A few more ways to secure your device:
How to detect and remove spyware from your iPhone
If you think someone might be spying on your iPhone, it’s most likely going to be an app. Apple keeps its app store environment fairly clean, but nobody’s perfect, and they let the occasional piece of malware through as well (Note: these instructions only apply to non-jailbroken iPhones).
- The first thing you should do if your phone shows signs of having malware is to shut it off completely. You don’t want the malware stealing any more information than it already has. As long as you’ve clearly observed the symptoms of the malware, you’ll be able to continue your research without your phone.
- Look for your symptoms online. Have any other users had the same issues that you had? Who knows – they might have already figured out how to fix your problem. In any case, you’re looking for information that might lead you to the malicious app responsible for your issues.
- Hopefully, you now have some idea which app might be infecting your phone. Even if you don’t, however, it’s time to turn your phone on again. You can choose to either start your phone in recovery mode and proceed with a recovery (find Apple’s instructions here) or simply turn it on and initiate a reset to one of your iCloud backups.
- If the backup didn’t help, you’ll want to do a full factory reset. You’ll find Apple’s instructions for how to do so here. Don’t forget that a full reset will delete everything that you don’t have backed up. If you have anything you don’t want to lose, make sure it’s saved elsewhere!
- Now that your phone is spyware-free, it would be a good idea to mitigate any damage the app might have caused or might have the potential to cause. Don’t limit yourself to data you gave the app, because there are ways for apps to get information from elsewhere on your device. Change your passwords, call your bank to warn them about the potential for suspicious activity, and do anything you can to ensure that your private information can’t be used against you.
Although iOS is famous for its security, it’s best to take a few precautionary steps to be on the safe side.
A few ways to secure your device:
- Set a strong password
- Disable Siri on Lock Screen
- Disable the Lock Notifications
- Disable automatic sync to iCloud
- Update iOS
- Install a security app
Fortunately, mobile spyware is not that hard to track and remove – for now. Eventually, we’ll be facing a whole new wave of advanced mobile spyware; the challenge is to set up our safeguards accordingly.