So you think someone might be spying on your cell phone and you want to know how you can tell. Don’t worry, I can help you find out for sure and I can tell you what to do about it.
I’ll cover how your phone can be spied on without your knowledge and explain how to detect spyware on your phone today. I also have the video version below – if you prefer.
I’ll go over a few things you can look out for and you don’t need to be a tech wizard to use them – just have a keen eye and an open mind. I’ll also share my resources on removing spyware and some tips on how to keep your phone safe.
You Could Be a Victim of Spyware, Stalkerware or Spy Apps
First, I need to clear up what these terms mean – there is a lot of confusion online. For some people they all refer to the same thing but there are some differences. Without getting too technical here is what they mean:
Spyware is the main term – it covers any software that can spy on your phone or device in any way. This definition can cover spy apps and Stalkerware. But it also covers more advanced spying technology such as Pegasus and Stingray – more on those later.
The name Spyware can also mean malware programs designed to collect your personal data and transfer it to a third party. This kind of Spyware is usually hidden in other apps and targeted at a large number of people – not you personally. Operators of this then sell the data and it can be used in identity theft.
Spy Apps – these are commercial cell phone spy software applications available to buy online. They are used to monitor the phone user’s activity and report it via an online dashboard. These are legal to buy and use in certain circumstances but can be abused. They are targeted at individuals directly.
Stalkerware – this is just a new name covering spy apps. Some clever journalist coined the term and it has become widely used. It came from the fact that some people have been caught using spy apps to “Stalk” partners and loved ones.
You’ll hear other terms such as monitoring apps, parental control software, and snooper apps. You get the picture.
So you can see that Spyware covers every type of monitoring or data collection. I hope that clears things up a bit for you. Now let’s get on with the important thing – can you detect spyware on your phone?
How to Tell if Spyware is on Your Phone – Paranoia vs. Facts?
Here’s the problem – when you suspect that you are being monitored, you can become paranoid – it’s natural I guess – but it can cloud your judgment. Do you have good reasons to believe you are being monitored – or is your cell phone just playing up a bit?
I’m going to list a few signs which can be linked to having spyware on your phone. It’s important to know that some of these signs can be caused by other things.
Don’t look at one and think – that’s it someone is spying on my phone! Look at them all and rule out other possible causes.
If your phone displays several of these then you might have cause for concern. Read my article – How to Hack a Phone to see several ways people can hack into your phone without your knowledge.
Most people who suspect they are being spied on with cell phone spy software – are not!
How to Check for Spyware on Your Phone – Signs to Look Out For
I’m going to list a few of the main signs that can help detect spy apps on your phone or device. Use some common sense here and try to think rationally – start with an open mind. You are looking for significant signs at first before digging deeper.
Look for Changes in Phone Behavior
This is often your first hint that something is wrong. You are looking for sudden changes in your phone’s behavior. Things like:
Battery Drain – is your phone battery running down faster than normal? This used to be a really strong indicator. Spy apps used to hog the phone’s battery and cause serious drain but the modern programs have largely addressed this issue. If someone is spying on you with older software, you might notice a sudden deterioration in battery life.
Other causes of this can be software apps you have installed yourself or just that your battery is losing its ability to hold a charge due to age.
Strange Background Noise – some spyware programs can listen to and record your calls. This works by adding them as “a conference call” – but this can lead to you being able to hear strange background noise. Of course, we have all had this with a bad connection but if it is happening all the time you could have spy software on your phone.
Random Start or Shutdown – some spy software apps can cause the phone to light up as if it is in use or even to shut down by itself.
Look for this happening regularly not just a one-off. Again the good programs will not exhibit this behavior.
Receiving Strange SMS Texts – are you regularly getting odd-looking text messages, usually with just numbers and symbols?
Some programs use SMS texts to issue commands to the target cell phone and if they are not configured properly you might see these messages coming through.
Higher Data Use – is your data usage suddenly getting high? Spyware programs send logs of your phone use to online servers using your data plan. Older apps used to be heavy on data transfers but again the best spy software apps have changed how this is handled.
The data transfers are now smaller and most people don’t have itemized data billing – so it’s getting harder to spot. If they are uploading large files like videos from your cell phone – data use could still be noticeable.
Blocked Email – has your email stopped working on your phone suddenly? This can be caused by a spyware program changing your server details. Look out for emails bouncing back to you after trying to send them.
Unusual Account Activity – can you see strange activity in your linked accounts such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube? If your phone is being spied on they could have access to your other accounts through your phone.
Pop-ups – are you getting unusual pop-ups on your phone? Often these will be like security alerts telling you to update apps or settings. These can be genuine but be alert if they are happening repeatedly.
Frequent Password Change Notifications – are you getting these notifications when you haven’t changed anything?
These are some of the most common signs that your device might have spyware. Remember to look for several of these and investigate further. Next up you can look a little deeper:
Check the Cell Phone Files
If you are a little more advanced it is sometimes possible to detect spyware by looking inside the actual files on the phone. If you go to Settings – Applications – Manage Applications or Running Services, you may be able to spot suspicious looking files.
Good Spy programs usually disguise the file names so that they don’t stand out but sometimes they may contain terms like Spy, Monitor or Stealth etc.
Not everyone is comfortable getting inside the phone’s file system but if you are only looking for any confirmation you won’t do any damage to the phone. I wouldn’t recommend removing or deleting any files unless you really know what you are doing.
Detecting Spyware on iPhone vs Android Phone
The above signs to tell if you have spyware on your phone work for both Android and iPhone. But there are a few differences when it comes to detecting spy apps and spyware.
Android is an open operating system – it allows you to install third-party apps and apps not in the Google Play Store. This can be great in terms of freedom but not so good in terms of security.
Android devices are generally accepted as being less secure than their Apple counterparts – mainly down to the threat from third-party apps. Take care with any app you install and check any you have already are legitimate. Spyware on Android can be a real problem.
One plus point is that it is easier to look inside the phone files on your Android to detect potential spyware apps. If you spot any suspicious file names – search for them online to confirm if they are a potential threat.
As I mentioned Apple iOS – iPhones are more secure than Android phones. You can only install apps on an iPhone from the Apple Store. This means the apps are vetted and seen as safe and secure.
There is a way around this and many people chose to Jailbreak their iPhones. Jailbreaking is a way of bypassing Apple controls and allows the user to install third-party apps and customize their devices in other ways. This obviously presents an added risk. In fact, to install a spyware app on any iPhone it must have a Jailbreak.
So it follows that if your iPhone is not Jailbroken, it can’t have a spyware app installed on it. There is a quick way to check if your iPhone has a Jailbreak – see my guide for details.
Using a USSD Code to Detect Spyware?
There are many claims online suggesting you can use a code to check if your phone is hacked or tapped – see my article on that to find out the truth.
Using an App to Detect Spyware
Can you use an app to detect spyware on your phone? Not really – anti-spyware apps are not very effective.
Detecting phone spyware apps is not the same as finding viruses or malware. In the case of antivirus and malware scanning, the apps are programmed to look for known threats and are constantly updated by the major providers. Think of apps like Avast antivirus, Bitdefender, Malware Bytes, Norton and Kaspersky.
When it comes to spyware the apps tend to be from smaller companies with fewer resources. They can’t provide reliable detection. If we take just one type of spyware such as spy apps – there are so many different apps that they can’t cover all of them.
Detection apps must be programmed to look for specific files and spy apps change file names and how they work regularly. They do this to avoid detection by any anti-spy apps. And they are good at it! Spy apps are difficult to uncover.
If only it was as easy as running a simple app to find spyware on your phone!
I mentioned above that some programs can be considered advanced spyware technologies. These aren’t your regular spy apps you buy online. The good news is that it is very unlikely that you would be targeted by any of these unless you happen to be a major celebrity, politician or high profile individual.
Advanced spyware is extremely expensive and highly technical. Two programs you might have heard about are Pegasus and Stingray.
Pegasus is an advanced spyware program that was used to target a human rights activist in the Middle East. Since then it has been exposed and linked to many high profile hacks targeting individuals.
Pegasus is sold by NSO Group, an Israeli spyware company. It is supposedly aimed at governments to help them counter cyber threats. It has however been exposed as being used against activists and political opponents.
Most of us don’t need to worry about Pegasus – plus it is unlikely we could detect it!
Stingrays are also known as cell site simulators or IMSI Catchers. They are devices that mimic a cell phone tower. They then intercept communication data between the cell phone tower and your phone. They can be used to track people and intercept their calls and texts.
Stingrays are usually only used by government agencies but there have been reports of them being used by cybercriminals too. Have a look at this article to see their use in the U.S.
Again they are very expensive and most ordinary people are unlikely to be targeted using a Stingray. They are made by the Harris Corporation and their latest version is more advanced and targets 3G and 4G networks – called Hailstorm.
Advanced spyware shouldn’t be a worry for most of us. Their cost alone will rule them out for someone targeting you personally.
As the main spy app providers become more sophisticated it is becoming more difficult to detect spy apps on your cell phone. They quickly recognized the more obvious signs and worked to remove these issues. Some of the poorer quality software programs are still quite easy for anyone to spot.
Remember not to focus on just one issue – look for several of these signs together. If you really do believe that someone is spying on your cell phone – you need to take action.
To be a victim of regular spy software apps – they must get access to your cell phone or device to physically install the program. Remotely installed spy apps are scams and do not work as advertised. Keep your phone safe at all times!
Spyware Detection and Removal Resources
The good news is that it is easy to remove spyware apps and also protect your smartphone going forward. You need to read my article – How to Remove Cell Phone Spy Apps.
You can also read How to Unhack Your Phone – it covers removing all kinds of hacks not just spy apps.
I have a range of supporting articles in my main Online Security section all aimed to help you find spy apps and other hacks. Then I cover the main steps to help you remove these threats and secure your devices.
Check out my main guide – How to Know if Your Phone is Hacked – if your phone has been hacked or compromised in some way this can be an open door for all your activity online.
Use these together with this guide to get a great overall understanding – I know these will help you.
Think Your Phone Has Spyware on It – Really?
I have put together a detailed Ebook to help any victims of spy software apps. It covers how to find spy apps on your mobile device; how to remove them and how to stop them in the future. It is a very comprehensive guide and will help you if you really have been hacked. Check out the details HERE.
Learn What Spyware Apps Can Do
Do some homework and know what you are up against!
The truth is that most people don’t have a clue how powerful modern spy apps are and how available and easy to use they are. If you think someone is spying on your cell phone you need to get familiar with some of the main products available.
Take a look at my reviews of Flexispy, Mobistealth, and my main review of the mSpy app – you need to know what they are capable of and how they work. This will help in the process of knowing what to look for.
You can also look at my side-by-side comparison of the Best working Spy Apps – looking at all the spy features of the top-rated programs.
That just about covers how to detect spyware on your phone for now. I keep this article updated regularly as new threats emerge and new information becomes available.
Things change quickly with mobile technology and it pays to keep informed. Take advantage of the resources linked to on this page – I cover a lot of reliable information on cyber security and maintaining your privacy. Thanks for reading and stay safe.
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