If you have to ask that question, you may have some valid concerns about your personal data. You might keep your cell phone safe and locked with a PIN code, a fingerprint, facial recognition, etc. But is that enough? Sadly, there is a way someone can spy on your phone without ever touching it. It’s called spyware and has many ways to get inside your mobile device.
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16 signs that someone is spying on your phone
Here are the most common warning signs that your phone is being tracked, tapped, or monitored by spyware software:
Anomalous data usage
You probably know your monthly mobile data usage. If you notice any strange data usage spikes, it may be a sign of spy apps. If someone is spying on your cell phone, they’re using the network to download the data collected on you.
If, for some reason, you’re not tracking your data usage, you should start paying attention right away. Some spyware uses loads of data, while more sophisticated versions are a bit more discrete, but there’s no way to avoid an increase in data use with spyware.
How to check data usage on an iPhone
Here’s how you can check data usage statistics on an iPhone or iPad:
- Open your phone Settings;
- Choose Cellular or Mobile Data (this depends on your locale);
- Scroll down to find detailed data usage information.
As you’ll see, it shows the total amount of data used and how much was used by each app. So you can look for suspicious app activity here by looking for spikes in data usage. Reset the data periodically by pressing Reset Statistics at the very bottom of the screen in mobile data settings.
How to check data usage on Android
The process for checking data usage may be slightly different depending on the Android device that you are using. But it will be the same or similar to this:
- Open the Settings app;
- Find and open the Mobile network settings;
- Click on the App data usage section.
Android settings also show both the total amount of data used and the data used by each app during a period of time. This allows you to check for any unusual things going on with your data.
Unusual activity on linked accounts (Google, Facebook, iCloud)
Unusual logins and other activity on platforms like Google and Facebook may be a sign of a breach in your defense. There are security flaws within the iCloud system, which allow bad actors to access your information through spyware.
They can gain access to your other accounts as well if they’re linked to your iCloud and their information is stored there. Suspicious activity on any of your accounts is a cause for concern and should not be taken lightly since chances are that hackers have taken over your device.
We’re not talking about the GDPR or “Please disable Adblock” stuff here. If you’re receiving push notifications for fake virus alerts and such, it may be a sign that your mobile phone is infected by adware — an obnoxious form of malware. From being annoying to carrying phishing attempts, they threaten your security.
Phone getting slower
If your cell phone is old or filled to the brim with apps, it’s natural. But if it’s not, you should be worried. Spy apps use their share of processing power to track your phone.
Unlike many others on this list, this is not a dead-giveaway sign of spyware. You may not immediately notice your phone slowing down. Even if you do, it’s easy to write it off as the phone simply getting slower with age.
Your phone should not reboot without your say-so or an obvious critical error. Frequent unexpected reboots may be a sign that your phone has been hacked. While, in theory, it is possible that your device is simply on its last legs, that’s rarely the case.
It’s way more likely that a hacker has managed to gain remote access to your device with admin rights. And the reboots might just be a necessary part of the process for whatever is being done to your phone.
Longer or impeded shutdowns
This one is hard to notice because we hardly ever shut down our phones these days. However, if your phone is taking a long time to shut down — or just doesn’t shut down — it may be due to interference from the spy apps.
Much like a computer, your phone shuts down all active processes before turning itself off. Spyware is often designed to battle shutdown processes. The reason for it is obvious; hackers don’t want you to take away their access to your device.
Your emails end up blocked
Have your friends or coworkers missed your emails because their firewalls blocked them? This may indicate that malware is operating on your phone and infecting your correspondence.
Another possibility is that hackers have gained access to your email account and used it to send spam emails. As a result, your actual, legitimate emails are also being flagged as spam due to suspicious activity from your account. Either way, if there is an issue with how your emails are being delivered, it could be a sign that someone has broken into your device.
The phone wakes up randomly
You lock your phone and put it away. Suddenly, it lights up, yet there aren’t any incoming calls, messages, push notifications, or anything similar. This may be a sign that someone hacked your smartphone.
The screen lighting up is usually a sign of some processes running in the background. If your phone does not light up, that does not mean it’s safe. If it does light up without a reason on a regular basis, that’s definitely cause for concern.
Interfering with other devices
You know how your phone causes interference with nearby electronics when you’re on a phone call? Well, that should not happen if you’re not having a phone call. In these situations, it may be a sign of a listening app sending information to whoever is stalking you.
Weird noises during phone calls
Mobile phones have advanced to the point where you shouldn’t hear random sounds and distant voices during your phone conversations. If this keeps happening — and it’s not just background noise from the end of the line — someone may be tapping your call.
These sounds can be little taps, static noise, echo, or pretty much any noise that should not be there.
Who’s texting these days? In any case, if you receive weird text messages that are weirder than the usual marketing stuff, those may be control messages meant for a spy app on your phone. Those messages usually contain strange symbols, character combos, and such.
On top of receiving strange text messages, you may notice SMS messages sent from your device even though you did not send any. Unless you had a wild bender the night before, messages that you can’t remember sending are probably sent by bad actors that have taken over your phone.
Unusual battery drainage
Has your battery started draining faster without any particular reason (like installing new apps)? Well, spy apps need the energy to function just like any other piece of software, and if they’re constantly recording your audio, they need quite a bit more.
On the off chance that it’s just the battery getting old, try using the battery with another device (if your smartphone doesn’t have a replaceable battery, take it to the service to check its health).
The battery heats up while idle
Unless you have one of those phone models that just shipped with an exploding disaster battery, your phone should not be heating up when idle. While a single occurrence of that may be explained by some app going awry, if you experience this on the regular, something is amiss — and you probably have a spy app on your hands.
Once again, the reason for it is easy to explain. Even when you’re not using your phone, spyware may be running in the background. Since it requires a lot of resources to run, your phone keeps getting hot.
Autonomous app storage permissions (for Android phones)
If you find your Android phone allows downloading and installing apps outside of the Google Play Store without asking you first, you might be dealing with mobile spyware.
You can check this by going through your Storage permissions in the Settings.
Do you have unfamiliar apps on your phone that can store stuff? If so, someone may be spying on you.
Bad screenshot quality
Word around the block is that keyloggers — spyware that records what you type — can mess with screenshot quality. So if you notice your screenshots aren’t looking as good as they usually do, this could indicate your phone is being spied on.
Autocorrect doesn’t work well
Autocorrect is a finicky beast on the best of days. However, if it starts acting strange or lagging, this may be the result of a keylogger at work. After all, what better app to steal your input if not the keyboard or autocorrect?
How to prevent spyware from infecting your phone
Here are a few tips on preventing your phone from being riddled with spyware:
- Keep it updated: phone OS and various app updates happen for a reason — and sometimes, that reason is filling a known security gap;
- Use antivirus software: a simple antivirus can easily detect many spy apps. Having one is especially recommended for Windows and Android users, as viruses, malware, and spyware are more common on these operating systems;
- Don’t go third-party: enabling unsupported apps on Android devices or jailbreaking (removing software restrictions) iPhones makes your phone more vulnerable to exploitation;
- Don’t leave your phone unattended: locking your screen and never separating from your phone is the safest way to keep it from being hacked;
- Be careful online: shady websites and suspicious email attachments (or URL links) can be dangerous. So don’t click on what you don’t know;
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN): VPNs sometimes offer additional features — like Surfshark VPN’s CleanWeb, which keeps your phone safe from over 1,000,000 known malicious sites.
It’s a short list, but these steps will significantly improve your phone’s security and protect it from being hacked (spyware is just one form of hacking). If you want to learn more, check out our article on how to know if your phone is hacked.
What can you do if your phone is being spied on?
Here’s what you can do on top of the things mentioned above, such as using an antivirus and updating your OS, if you feel like your phone is compromised by spyware.
Enable 2FA on your accounts
While enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) won’t get rid of spyware, it will help with protecting your accounts when your phone is hacked.
The best-case scenario would be to set up 2FA in a way that would require authentication from another device. Since if you only get a message or email on your phone to confirm the login, the person that has hacked your phone will probably be able to see it as well.
Change your passwords
Changing your passwords is another protective measure you should take if you feel like your phone has been hacked. Also, do it on another device if you don’t want to change the passwords again in 5 minutes.
Keep in mind that the hackers may be able to see everything that you’re doing on your phone. So if you’re using the same phone to change your passwords, you’re not hiding anything away from bad actors.
Remove spy software on Android manually
It is possible that a spyware app on your phone is installed with a name like “spy,” “monitor,” or other similar unsubtle words. Here’s how you can detect them:
- Go to Settings;
- Choose Applications;
- Find either Manage Applications or Running Services;
- Check for suspicious apps.
Don’t know whether the app you found is suspicious or not? Google the name! If it’s an incompetently named spy app, uninstall it.
An alternative method is to root through file sections and directories to find ones with suspicious titles. Here’s how it’s done:
- Find My Files or an equivalent app on your device;
- Access Internal storage (phone or SD);
- Choose Android;
- Choose Data;
- Browse around for folders with suspicious names.
What about an iOS device?
Remove spy software on iOS devices manually
The no-jailbreak apps like mSpy depend on spying on the stuff you upload on iCloud. The easiest way to fix them is to change your iCloud password.
Now, for real spying, an iPhone must be jailbroken. And even then, the apps need a third-party installer to work. Check your phone to see if you have apps like Cydia or Icy. If they’re there, your phone is jailbroken.
You can also see if all the apps installed on your device exist on the App Store. If any of them don’t, your phone is jailbroken.
How do you fix that? By updating to the latest iOS version via iTunes.
How to reset to factory settings on Android and iPhone
If nothing else helps, you might need to resort to performing a factory reset to clear your phone of spyware. This is the nuclear option for removing spy apps. It will wipe your phone, which means your settings, apps, contacts, media, and other stuff will be gone. Remember to back up the important things before a factory reset.
Factory reset on an Android device
- Make sure the phone is well-charged or plugged in;
- Enter the Settings menu (usually by swiping down on the main screen and then selecting the appropriate button);
- Tap System;
- Tap Advanced;
- Go to Reset Options;
- Tap Erase all data (factory reset);
- Tap Erase all data;
- Enter PIN if prompted;
- Tap Erase all data;
- Watch the process happen.
As is always the case with Android devices, the process may be slightly different depending on your device and the version of your OS. But the general process of factory reset should be very similar.
Factory reset on an iPhone
Before performing a factory reset, it’s a good idea to back up your files on iCloud. You will be prompted with a suggestion to do so as soon as your start the factory reset process.
- Go to Settings;
- Select General;
- Tap Transfer or Reset iPhone;
- Tap the Erase All Content and Settings option;
- Enter your Apple ID password;
- Wait for the phone to reset.
Factory resets are the most extreme option for removing spy software. But it’ll make sure your phone is fresh and free of spyware.
Can someone spy on you when your phone is off?
Yes, there are ways to spy on you via your phone, even when it’s turned off. In the Snowden days, there were rumors of NSA software called “The Find” that could tap switched-off phones.
But a more likely situation — and something that a regular hacker could do — is making your phone appear turned off when, in truth, it’s just pretending to be. It’s possible to simulate a switched-off state by locking the screen, blocking calls, and turning off notifications.
This can’t be done remotely — someone or something has to compromise your phone in the first place. Only when malicious software has been placed on your phone can such tricks be accomplished.
Another related subject is Airplane Mode. For iPhone users, turning on Airplane Mode doesn’t mean the phone is immune to tracking. An iPhone will still ping other iPhones via Bluetooth as part of the system that makes Find My Device and Apple AirTags work. So while this doesn’t allow hackers to access your files, they can still track your location.
How can someone remotely access my phone?
The best way to hack a phone is by physically installing one of the monitoring apps from the app stores. But there are other things to be on the lookout for if you’re worried that someone may hack your phone. Your cell phone can get compromised by one of these other means:
- Suspicious emails: just as you shouldn’t open suspicious email links and attachments on a computer, neither should you do so on your phone;
- Compromised apps: maybe you downloaded some third-party app that wasn’t vetted by the app store or got a free VPN, 38% of which were found to contain malware (at least on Android devices). Once again, the infection is happening with your help;
- Jailbreaking: mostly an iPhone issue — if you want to install third-party apps on Apple products, you need to jailbreak them, which opens you to a world of risks;
- “No-Jailbreak Apps:” a rare category of Apple monitoring apps that spy on you by accessing your iCloud updates.
Sure, all of this sounds terrible. But there are ways to remove spyware from your device.
Codes to check if your phone is tapped
Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) codes are shortcodes that allow you to access certain network functions directly — and they can be mighty handy for seeing if someone is listening in on your calls. Just enter the full code — yes, with the *’s and #’s — and tap the call button. It may not work with all phones or operators.
*#62* — this checks for redirections. If you see another phone number, your calls may be redirected to it. However, it is smart to check that phone number online — it may turn out to be your service provider’s voicemail function.
If it’s not, dial ##002# to reset it.
*#21# — checks for diversion, which is similar to redirection.
In conclusion: avoid hacks at all costs
Can someone install spyware on your phone without touching it? Yes. Can you tell that your phone is being spied on? Also yes.
Once you know your security is compromised, you can take measures to reverse it. One of the steps can be accomplished right now: get Surfshark VPN and secure your smartphone and other devices, and all of your online activity!
How can you tell if someone is spying on your phone?
A few common conditions, like your phone heating up or restarting for no reason, can help you determine whether your phone has been compromised.
Is someone watching me through my phone?
Right now, in real-time? Probably not. State security agencies usually collect data for analysis instead of looking at it live.
Can someone spy on your phone without you knowing?
Yes, if they had physical access to your phone and installed monitoring software.
How do I stop my phone from being monitored?
There are different solutions for getting rid of monitoring software on your phone. Run frequent malware scans, always keep your phone OS updated, don’t download sketchy apps, and if nothing else helps — perform a factory reset of your phone.