Avoid Phone Spyware
In This Article
• Phones can get spyware, too
• Different types of malware
• How spyware gets on a phone<
• How to tell if you have spyware
• What to do if you're infected
• How to prevent getting spyware
• Some good news!
Our smartphones have become the center of our digital lives and contain a huge amount of personal info. They're full of email, contacts, photos, videos, social media posts, website history, and location data (unless you've disabled tracking).
Many people don't realize that just like laptops and computers, phones can also be infected with spyware (a type of malware).
What is Malware?
Before we explain how this happens, let's do a quick review of the different types of malware. “Malware” is a general term for any software or app that you were not aware was installed and that has the ability to see and do things without your permission.
Nuisanceware is the most benign. It's often bundled and installed alongside legitimate apps. It can cause unwanted browser popups, change your browser's home page, and collect (and then sell) your web browsing data to advertisers. It's generally not dangerous but can be annoying.
Spyware is more dangerous because it can collect email, photos, videos, passwords, etc. It can monitor, in real time, your email and text messages. Spyware can report your GPS location, record phone calls, and block certain contacts, apps, or websites. And some can even intercept live phone calls.
Stalkerware is the most dangerous. It's like spyware, but directed at a specific person. It's often installed (sometimes with dubious legal grounds) by law enforcement or private detectives. It can do the same things as spyware but is used to gather detailed information with a purpose.
To avoid potential legal issues, some spyware providers sell their apps as a parental monitoring service to check their kid's behavior online or for businesses to monitor employee behavior while using company-issued phones.
The legality (and morality) of using spyware to monitor and/or collect data is fuzzy. Employers might have the right to put it on company phones, but they might also be required to disclose that to their employees.
How Does Spyware Get on Your Phone?
Nuisanceware gets on your phone because it's usually “bundled” with legitimate apps. When you're installing a new app, pay attention to checkboxes that might already be checked. Sometimes, those pre-checked boxes are giving permission to load the nuisanceware. All you have to do is uncheck them.
Some spyware gets on your phone because you thought it was a legitimate app but was actually malicious. It's safer to download apps only from reputable sources. Even then, make sure they have good ratings and a lot of positive reviews.
Spyware can also get on your phone the same way it gets on your computer. By clicking (or tapping) a link or opening an attachment in an email, you might actually be infecting yourself. Be really careful with this type of behavior and don't click links or open attachments in emails unless you know the sender and are sure it's safe.
What Are Some Signs of Possible Infection?
There are few things that indicate a possible spyware infection.
The recent version of iOS (the operating system for iPhones) shows a visual indicator when the microphone and/or camera is in use — if you see this when you're not using something that needs the mic or camera, that could be a sign of infection.
You might notice an unfamiliar app or a slower than normal response from legitimate apps and websites.
You might see that the battery drains faster than it used to. Or you might observe other abnormal behavior on the phone.
If any of these things occur, you might have spyware. See the section below for possible solutions.
If You Think Your Phone Has Spyware
Run a scan for malware. There are some good scanners for iOS- and Android-based phones.
For iOS, try…
For Android, try…
Change all your passwords to strong ones (see <
If you think your email was compromised, consider creating a new email address that you do not reveal to anyone.
Update the operating system (iOS or Android) to the latest version your phone will support.
If you try all of the things above, but still think your phone is infected, there's one (very drastic) last step: Do a factory reset. But make sure to do a backup first, because a factory reset will wipe everything off your phone and restore it to its condition when you first got it. You'll need to re-install apps and reconfigure things, but very few spyware apps can survive a factory reset.
How to Prevent Spyware on Your Phone
If you use a work phone, issued by your employer, do not use it for any non-work-related things (visiting websites, making personal phone calls, sending text messages, taking photos, making videos, etc.)
On your personal phone, be careful tapping on links and opening attachments in email. Only do so if you trust the sender and were expecting the email (if in doubt, call the sender and verify).
Only visit legitimate websites and only download vetted, highly-rated apps. iPhone users are a bit safer because Apple does a better job policing its app store than Google does in its Play store.
Never leave your phone unattended in a public place - a hacker can install spyware in mere minutes.
Always use a good PIN and set the phone to autolock after a few minutes.
The Good News
Even though spyware can be invasive and destructive, the good news is that hackers can't magically transmit spyware to your phone.
Your diligence and “safe behavior” can prevent infections.
Get in touch if you have any questions.
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