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Android Spyware Apps: How Dangerous Are They?

by on July 18, 2013
in Privacy, Phones and Mobile, Mobile Apps, Android Apps, Guides & Reviews

Mobile spyware has been reported numerous times in the media as a serious threat for phone users. When we first covered the spyware issue back in March, 2012, we were shocked by the volume of comments we received from readers who suspected they were the victims of spyware. And, some of the claims they were making about how much information the alleged spy was able to capture seemed a little far fetched.

But the comments kept coming in from women (yes, women seem to be the primary victims) whose lives are being turned upside down by a controlling spouse, boyfriend or ex who seems to know their every move.

So we started to take a deeper look at the issue and what we found is very disturbing. Spyware programs are very real, easily available and far more intrusive than we expected would be possible.

Worse, spyware threats are also highly pervasive—according to security company Lookout, .24% of Android phones they scanned in the U.S. had surveillance-ware installed intended to target a specific individual. Sophos reports a similar .2% infection rate from spyware. If those numbers hold true for Android users in general, that would mean tens of thousands are infected by spyware. And this isn't just an Android issue, iOS and BlackBerry devices can be easily infected as well. Yet, mobile security vendors are currently doing a poor job at spyware detection.

I tested three of the most common spyware apps—Mobile Spy, Mobile Stealth & Phone Control—in detail to find if each could do everything it claimed. The results were eye-opening. While features varies somewhat between the three, each could easily be installed on my Nexus 4 running Android 4.2 and capture significant amounts of highly personal information; including allowing a spy to remotely track your location, monitor your text messages, listen to your calls, see every photo and video you shoot, turn on your phone's microphone to monitor its surroundings and take pictures with your phone's camera.  

Mobistealth dashboard

Meanwhile, the app remains hidden in the background, given you no warning that something may be amiss.

Mobile Spy

At $100 per year (or $50 for three months), Mobile Spy isn't cheap, but it provides a robust set of monitoring capabilities and allows the snooper to access the details through a simple-to-use web interface. For an extra $50 a year, Mobile Spy adds the ability to remotely record the audio using the phone's microphone and capture pictures with the phone's camera.

Mobile Spy also works with iOS (requires jailbreaking), BlackBerry (v7 and below) and Symbian, and multiple devices can be monitored from the same web interface. Once installed, the app remains hidden from the user, only appearing as "SIM Toolkit" in the list of running apps within Android Settings.

Mobistealth

Mobistealth is very similar to Mobile Spy, but offers one important feature—the ability to record live phone conversations. While almost certainly illegal in many jurisdictions without both parties' consent, recording call audio provides a much more complete profile on the person you are monitoring. You pay for this added functionality, though. A one year subscription to Mobistealth is $199.

Mobistealth also works with iOS (requires jailbreaking), BlackBerry (v7 and below) and Symbian, and multiple devices can be monitored from the same web interface. Once installed, Mobistealth remains hidden from the user, showing "Lookout Secure" in the running app list.

Phone Control

If you're looking for an app that provides a robust set of features at a bargain basement price (one-time fee of 1.99 Euros), Phone Control is a great choice. Formerly available through Google Play (before getting kicked off), Phone Control gives you all the tools you need to monitor your target, including recording of live calls. What you don't get is the slick web interface—tracking data is delivered to you via email—and some features that require manual initiation.

Not having a web interface makes managing the device more difficult, but offers a potential privacy advantage. With the other spyware apps, your target's content is sent and stored on the company's servers where, potentially, others could access it. With Phone Control, information is sent from the phone using an email address you set up on the device, so the data is never transmitted to a third-party (other than your email host).

Installation is a more involved process than with the other apps, requiring downloading and installing two apps, one which the developer will send you after you pay through Paypal. We've also been notified by the developer that he will no longer be supporting the app, so it's not clear how much longer it will be available.

Phone control is only available for Android. Once installed, Phone Control remains hidden from the user, showing "Android Manager" in the running apps.

Comparison of monitoring features
 

Features (Android)  Mobile Spy   Mobistealth  Phone Control
Record surroundings      
Record audio
Capture photo
Text message monitoring
Call tracking      
List call details
Record phone calls
Track web history Manual
View photos & videos
GPS tracking      
On-demand
Historical
Monitor phone contacts Manual
Monitor calendar Manual
Hide on install
Web interface
Supported OS Android, iOS, BB Android, iOS, BB Android

 

 



Discussion loading

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I was hacked

From Marlon on September 11, 2013 :: 12:32 am

I have a so called friend his name is mike he has a app that he uses to spy on people and he won’t stop hacking me what can I do he even uses it to have sex with people and is steeling people’s profile to take over thair bank and his girl friend he’s hiding out has over 20 worrents for steeling people’s money I don’t no how to spell his last name but its mike diteze I do have his address if you find to be nesasairy to have thank you

Reply

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IM BEING VIOLATED AND VIDEO TAPED BY I FEEL FAMILY AS WELL AS ENEMY PEOPLE WHO JUST GAIN YOUR TRUST

From BONNIE DUNCAN on June 28, 2016 :: 5:31 pm

PLEASE HELP ME SOMEHOW !I WANT TO MOVE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE WHER NONE OF THEM CAN EVER FIND ME!IM ALSO GOING TO CHANGE MY NAME!!IVE GOT ALOT OF HEALTH PROBLEMS NOW SUCH AS HEART PROBLEMS AND MY PUTUITARY GLAND LOCATED NEAR MY BRAIN I ALSO SUFFERED YEARS OF PYSICAL ABUSE GROWING UP AND IN RELAINSHIPS!PLEASE HELP ME

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Being hacked by Ex Husband w/ rooting, spyware the works!

From Sheila Irvin on September 23, 2015 :: 4:06 pm

Thank you to com posted and his crew does he has well Joseph Turner the information was from technician. Tip spying on iPhone I just had to go through every location for a serious the mess to go since that was done at me from my ex husband anyhow I have done everything to be a I wanted all that but I just found out 4 days ago that I was missing some things for my phone and realize that once looking into it that he has done some reading on their taken quite a bit of stuff had a bunch of things that he was doing whatever but I found like 25 different things that he put on this phone I’ve been searching the internet try and libraries trying to find out how to clear up this mess I do know that he put a third party and a remote on a car my phone I shut that down I also know that he has foot the tracking and all these things but I have three phones in the ass mess with a kyocera 4G Icarus Sierra 4G hydro extra trim and then a restroom and then also my active what is a 5.0 so if you could get back to me and let me know exactly what I am learning but there’s a lot to do thank you so much bye PS he also has the movie lot of things and obviously stored them on the data is there with a lot of stuff but my CD o is saying 0 so I know thats thats means he stored it I do have a CD chick that was in his phone which I have as well she’s federal court of it is there a man I’m I waste your time telling you cuz if you can tell there’s a lot

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Sorry talk to test really

From Sheila Irvin on September 23, 2015 :: 4:28 pm

Sorry talk to test really sucks. Glad I didn’t tell you all 3 pgs. Back to back of what I have found and need to fix. And it’s not my car its my phones. 3 in totally Kyocera 4G, Kyocera 4G Hydro xtrim and a Alcatel One touch 5.0 mp.  He has disabled my systems so having a re hard time figuring this out. I’m so willing to send the phones to you. And heck yah if your still doing your book, project on this Spying and the damage I’m game. He has put a spy camera, voice recording, Cerberus:D even was smart enough to change the default passwords. Mr. I need your help more than Rocky Road ice cream when I’m crying. Not savvy but learning. I did an app to get an idea what was in the phones 125 things. What the heck! I’ll be old, shoot I’m 49. I did get GS file Explore and task trying to make my way, that’s how I’ve been able to see some of the junk he has done. Started according to the dates a year ago. Wow!
Will be sitting here waiting with bells on and a plate of Sugar cookies! Have a blessed day! Thanks again Sheila smile))))

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ny girlfreind..

From rikki scott on September 25, 2015 :: 7:01 am

says she feels shes being spyd on and thinks its me! how can i convince her its NOT and find the real culprits? who are slowly splitting us up.i think they are trying to rob her and im seriously concerned

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