While phones are generally safe, it’s possible for software called spyware or stalkware to make its way onto your phone and start tracking your whole life.
These nefarious tools can see anything from your call and browser history to your location and can even access your camera and microphone.
Sounds pretty scary, right?
The damage done by spyware can be vast but you can help prevent it by knowing the warning signs of someone spying on your phone.
To give you the knowledge to do that, we’re going to look at:
- How to tell your phone is being spied on
- How to remove spying software from your phone
- How to prevent being spied on in the future
10 ways to know someone is spying on your phone
Your Android device has a green dot
In a recent software update, Android added a little green dot to your screen. The dot sits next to your battery indicator and is only there when your camera or microphone is being accessed, even in the background.
If you’re seeing this dot when you’re not using your phone or are in apps that don’t usually use your mic or lens, you might be being spied on.
There are apps you didn’t download
Although a pretty crude way to spy on someone, people will still just add a parental control app to your phone.
This type of app tracks:
- The websites you visit
- Your location
- The apps you use
- Who do you communicate with
Obviously, they’re useful for parents but they can be used against you. Look for common apps like Bark, Boomerang, FamilyTime, or similar, and uninstall the app if you don’t want it on your phone.
Your device is rooted or jailbroken
Some people choose to break the programming on their device and “root” an Android or “jailbreak” an iOS phone. This can also theoretically happen to your phone and then allow access to scammers, fraudsters, or people with ill intentions.
On Android, you can download such an app as Root Checker and you’ll see if your phone has been rooted.
On an Apple device, check if you have the Cydia app installed – this is the device used to run a jailbroken Apple phone. If it’s on your phone then you have an issue.
If someone is spying on your phone, they’ll be using resources such as the battery and processing power.
While it’s normal for your phone to run out of battery sooner or get a little slower over time, a big change can be a sign something is wrong. There isn’t a standard way to know what your battery performance should be, but if it suddenly starts dying by lunchtime when it would usually last the whole day, it’s a sign to be suspicious.
Lots of data
A hacked phone with spyware needs to send the information it finds to be useful to the hacker. It will communicate through your data plan to whoever is gathering your data.
You can keep an eye on your data use through the settings on your phone and set alerts when too much data has been used. They should help you spot if something isn’t right.
Only you can really know what’s normal for you – most phone companies should be able to tell you how many GB of data you’ve used in the last couple of months to give you a baseline to work from.
As a rule of thumb, your phone shouldn’t do stuff without you touching it. This means that it shouldn’t light up on its own without a tap from you and it should only vibrate when you get a notification.
Coming to life all by itself or making noises and vibrations that have no notification attached to them are big warning signs that something isn’t quite right.
On the flip side, if your phone doesn’t react to your commands, you should also do some more digging and look for the other signs we’re going through here.
When your phone won’t shut down or runs a shutdown without you asking for it – and there’s enough battery – something is likely wrong.
This is a less common phone security issue, but some spyware may be able to use your dormant phone to listen to your conversations. If you don’t have full control of your power settings, investigate deeper.
We all get annoying marketing text messages every now and then, but they’re not unexpected. However, a phone with spyware installed may be taking instructions or sending data through your phone’s SMS capabilities.
Especially now there are so many other messaging apps, you might not look at your text message inbox very often. Make it a habit to delete messages once you don’t need them so anything unusual will stand out more.
Autocorrect going wrong
How annoying is it when your phone’s autocorrect doesn’t get your slang? That’s not a sign of hacking, but your phone changing words inexplicably could be.
Spyware can affect your keyboard and send weird signals to your keyboard which means it could start suggesting words that you don’t use or suggesting misspelled words when you know your text is right.
Spyware can take over your screen so if you start getting grainy, low-res screenshots then something isn’t quite right. It could be a sign that the screen you’re seeing is skin over something malicious going on in the background.
Taking a screenshot is pretty common for most of us so it should be easy to notice a change. If you’re not a regular screen sharer, you can make a habit to take a screenshot every couple of days to check the quality and then delete it.
How do I remove spyware from my phone?
Do a major clean-up
You need to clean up your phone as soon as you find there is something dodgy going on. First, you can try using apps that are designed to clean up your phone from reputable companies.
Be sure you read the reviews of any app promising to remove spyware from your phone; it could be dodgy itself! Check reviews on TrustPilot as well as the app store you’re using.
This type of app is generally only available for Android devices. If you have a phone using iOS, you should check through your app list and delete anything you don’t recognize.
Do a factory reset
Want to be super sure you’ve gotten rid of anything that could damage your phone or steal your details? You’re going to need to do a factory reset.
You will wipe everything off your device so make sure you back up:
- Your photos and videos
- Your app data
- Your chat history
- Your browser data and passwords
This should help you put your device back to how it was before you started having problems.
Be careful with the apps you reinstall on your device and take them from the official App Store or Play Store.
How do I prevent my phone from being spied on?
To stop your phone from being spied on, you need to be aware of the risks of what you do online.
Regularly update your OS
First, you should ensure that your phone is running the latest operating system and all updates have been installed. Phone companies release new versions when a hack or vulnerability is discovered so take the security patches they send.
Be aware that older phones don’t receive the same level of support and updates from the manufacturer. As a rule of thumb, you can expect an Apple phone to get updates for up to five years. Android devices can range from two to four years of updates, depending on who made the phone.
When security and preventing malware is a priority for you, consider upgrading your phone when it’s no longer supported and receiving updates.
Download only from trusted sources
Next, you should only ever download apps and content from trusted sources. For Apple devices, that’s the App Store and for Android, it’s Play Store. Downloading files from websites and trying to install them on your phone could come with a whole bunch of problems, including spyware.
Also, make sure that you have all the layers of security on your phone as are available. High-end phones tend to have biometrics like fingerprint and eye scanners while others will have a pin and/or pattern.
Keep your unlock codes private so no one can access your device and download dodgy apps without your permission.
Take other security measures
Finally, practice good online security in general. Do things like:
- Be suspicious of links in email and SMSs you didn’t request
- Have the same trusted VPN for Windows installed on your phone too
- Use strong passwords for apps and websites
- Be healthily skeptical of offers that are too good to be true
And you should be safe online.
Stopping someone spying on your phone
It’s a scary thought that someone could be watching what you’re doing on your phone. Follow our list of ten signs someone is spying on your phone to understand if you have anything to be concerned about and take steps to remove anything that shouldn’t be on your phone.
If you’re lucky and don’t have spyware on your phone now, you can still take steps to secure your phone to prevent problems in the future.