While most smartphone users are too far from becoming target of anybody’s interest to smartphone-spy on them, the accessibility of spying apps and techniques makes it incredibly easy to eavesdrop on you.
Smartphones are computers
Smartphones are small computers, so infiltrating a malicious code without the target’s specific consent is possible. Applications like Flexispy have exploited the smartphone design to tap into the phone’s core hardware and send data it harvests to the central server. Like computers, smartphones can be scanned for malicious codes, but some codes may remain unrecognized as malicious.
Remember: if you have serious suspicions, but cannot back them with facts, and antivirus checks show no results, you can always do a factory reset and wipe all the installed data altogether.
If your smartphone has been infected with a spying software, it does not affect your SIM card or your phone number. In case of spying software, you can simply turn your phone off, remove the SIM card and insert it into a different device. This is not entirely true when we are talking about sanctioned surveillance, and people spying on you have authorization to record your phone calls directly through your wireless carrier.
How expensive is your smartphone?
As sad as it is the more expensive and advanced your device, the more it knows about you, and the more hacking options there are. Try and hack into a 10-year old Alcatel with a tiny orange display – you will need that SIM access, or a physical access to the device because it just does not support WiFi, Bluetooth or any other channel through which information can be extracted. Connectivity we have in our smartphones opens up the leaking channels.
Signs your smartphone may have been hacked
In most cases, spying apps run silently in the background, so chances are you will never know. Program files are hidden, so the program does not reveal itself to you. Mark Novosel, IDC analyst, says there are “tell-tale signs that all is not as it should be with your device.”
“In order for the software to transfer the logs to the website, from where it can be read, it needs to establish data connection, and in most cases the handset will show an icon indicating there is data activity. If the suspect is not knowingly using data at the time of the transfer, it is quite likely this would arouse suspicion,” says Novosel.
Here are some typical signs that can signal that your smartphone has been hacked.
- Suspicious and utterly strange phone calls from strange numbers you do not even recognize the country code.
- Suspicious text messages from unknown numbers.
- Your phone’s battery runs out of juice suspiciously fast, or significantly faster than usual.
- Your smartphone gets warm or even hot to touch even, and especially, when you are not using it.
- You notice beeps, vibrations or flash up when you are not using your smartphone, or when you are in the middle of a phone conversation.
- You notice an increase in your smartphone bills, especially text messages when you are actually not using that much sms. Likewise, there may be a significant increase in reported data traffic, so keep an eye on mobile data and GPRS data because spyware must have a channel to transfer data.
- Your smartphone’s responsiveness changes: random freezes, slow restarts or slow shutdowns. While these may be signs of a number of other problems, combined with other spyware symptoms, freezes can signal about spyware acting in your device.
- In iPhone, there is an icon at the top left corner, which indicates data transfer. If your iPhone shows data transfer when you are not using Internet, and no app is updating at the moment, it can mean your phone is leaking data to a spy server.
- A less technical, but quite efficient way to clear on your doubts is to think who may benefit from spying on your smartphone. In most cases, spyware requires physical access to be installed on the device, so think about who has that access. Do you leave your device on the table when you go to the restrooms in the office? A friend you recently had dinner with and your phone was on the table while you went out to have a smoke? Does your spouse know your PIN? Has someone recently borrowed your smartphone to make a private phone call or download a cool ringtone, app or game? Think about possible motives. Some of the most common examples are jealousy-driven ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, especially with a tech background, envious colleagues and business partners.
Prevention is something that should be done before you fall victim to smartphone spying. In most cases, a spying app requires manual installation, so arm your device with necessary protection:
Don’t leave your smartphone unattended
Turn on password protection and make your password unknown to people who may have physical access to your phone. Go to the Settings menu, find Security and set the PIN code.
Do the backup
It may be wise to do a backup of your phone’s data and settings because in case it gets hacked, you may have to switch to a different device, or do a factory reset. You will need your data after that.
Note: if you suspect intrusion, it is better not to back up anything but contacts to your iTunes or Google account. If you choose to backup the entire device to your PC or Mac, you run the risk of backing up your data with the spyware.
Do not ignore antivirus programs
Even though many spy apps are not considered as malware and antivirus suites do not recognize these threats, having a powerful antivirus can make a difference. For example, F-Secure for Nokia Symbian devices recognizes spy apps as malicious. For BlackBerry devices, Kisses is great antivirus scanning software available free of charge. It can detect some spy apps, though not all. Anti Spy Mobile for Android comes in free and paid versions and scans your smartphone for spyware. iPhone users may try f-secure to scan their devices for spyware.
Factory Reset for Android/ Restore for iPhone
This must be the surest way to get rid of spyware, as it obsoletes all data and installed applications but the pre-installed ones. Again, if you suspect intrusion, do not back up apps; resort to backing up your contacts and images to iTunes or Google account instead of doing the backup directly to your PC or Mac. If you had paid apps, iTunes will automatically restore those to your reset or new device. The same goes to Google Play although there is a possibility of some data loss.
Do not Root/Jailbreak
Yeas, ultimate control over your device can be achieved via rooting/jailbreaking only, but the freedom has its cost. Jailbroken iPhones run a greater risk of getting bugged than the non-Jailbroken iPhones, the same goes to Android smartphones. If security is your concern, it may be a good idea not to root/jailbreak.
Choose your apps wisely
We have published a report from security Analytics Company warning that 100% of financial apps on Google Play and 73% of financial apps on iTunes have been hacked. Installing an app with cloud storage and synchronization with your other devices can pose a threat to your device’s integrity. If an app with huge permissions and privileges on your device becomes corrupt, you may need to get rid of it.