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Is Someone Spying on Your Phone?

by on March 30, 2012
in Phones and Mobile, Cell Phones, Tips & How-Tos, Privacy :: 731 comments

[Editor's note 2/9/17: Since this article was written five years ago, many new phone hacking methods have been developed and/or discovered. We've created a new article to cover those various hacks in our new story: How to Tell if Your Phone Has Been Hacked. Please go there for the latest information. We're keeping this story active for the issues and useful advice contained in the comments.]

You probably know there are plenty of apps you can install on your smartphone to track its location in case it gets lost or stolen. Apple's “Find My iPhone” is one good one and many security apps, such as AVG Mobilation, can track down a phone in seconds.

But what if someone else is tracking you? Is there any chance your boss or spouse could be spying on everything you do on your phone?

It’s easy to do. Spy apps are plentiful and can imperceptibly track text and e-mail messages, location, Web sites you visit, who you call and what photos and videos you shoot. The problem is these apps are difficult to detect and run invisibly in the background.

I decided to track my son and installed an app on his phone called Phone Control by Laucass (free on Google Play). Of course, secretly intercepting electronic communications without the person's knowledge and consent is illegal, so I told my son I was doing it and that I’d only use it if I had good reason.

Every day I receive emails that indicate my son’s location as he’s using his phone out in the world. I can click on those links in my email to see via Google Maps where he is (although I very rarely do). I could also set up the app to send me data about everything else he’s doing on his phone, but that’s not something I personally need—or want—to do.

Signs your phone may have been compromised

Someone borrowed or took your phone

I had to have my son’s phone in hand to install Android Phone Control. Once activated, however, there’s no icon in the application launcher. The app shows up with the name “Android System” in the applications manager so it doesn’t look suspicious. If you think someone could do something like this when you’re not paying attention or asleep, secure your phone with a passcode that isn’t easy to guess.

(Editor's Note 9/26/12: To confirm you have the spyware and not a standard Android app by the same name, follow these steps to open the spy app (dial the phone number.)

(Editor's Note 8/28/13: See our in-depth study of mobile security apps for more detail on 9 of the most common spyware programs and how to detect them.)

(Editor's Note 12/16/14 (Josh Kirschner): In some of my comments below, I noted the unlikelihood of spying on iPhones that were not jailbroken. However, since many of those comments were made, certain holes were identified in iOS that exploit the iPhone's connection to trusted networks and devices to allow someone with access to the network or device to download significant amounts of personal data. Jailbreaking the iPhone was not required. Fortunately, those holes have been patched in iOS 8. For more information, see: http://www.zdziarski.com/blog/?p=3820]

Your phone is acting weirdly

Taking forever to shut off, lighting up for no reason, suddenly getting much shorter battery life or running hot when you’re not using it may indicate hidden processes are running in the background.

Your data usage skyrockets for no reason

This could be because your phone is checking in with someone else, using GPS and sending them text messages or emails that communicate where you are and what you’re doing.

What to do if you suspect your phone's being monitored

The best thing to do is perform a factory reset, which you can find as an option in your phone’s settings. Know, however, that in doing so you will lose all data stored on your phone, so back it up first.

If you’re using Apple iCloud or Android 4.0, items like your contacts, photos and music are automatically synced and saved in the cloud. But if you have an older phone, you’ll want to make sure to export your contacts before doing a factory reset. There are various ways to do this depending on what phone you’re using and which operating system it’s running. If you’re not sure, get help from your cellular provider; they can make sure to retain your contacts and other important data during a factory reset.

You'll then want to use a strong passcode to prevent unauthorized access to your device. For Android devices, you can also install an app, like AppNotifier (free on Google Play), that will email you when programs are loaded onto your phone.

(Editor's Note 9/26/12: See our updated recommendations for Android antimalware solutions)

(Editor's Note 8/28/13: See our in-depth study of mobile security apps for our latest recommendations on how to protect yourself.)

You'll then have to tackle the issue of who's doing the monitoring. Keep in mind that if your device was issued by your company or is authorized to access your company's email and other data services, you may have given your consent as part of your employment contract or when access was data access was granted.



Discussion loading

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Been hacked and spy on by unknown

From Catherine on November 13, 2018 :: 10:53 pm

I’m in Ghana now and iv realized people can see and view me in my house, out in town, at work, Church etc including what call I make and hears every bit and totally everything I do on my phone on their phones. Please help me out

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Spy app & textnow

From Samantha on December 02, 2018 :: 4:59 am

My husband accuses me of all the things he’s doing (and I have the physical evidence & hard evidence to prove it). How do I find a spy or hidden installed or download app on my Moto E5 Plus Android 8.0.0 without doing a factory reset? One of the reasons I know he’s disrespecting our marriage is bcz I created a TextNow account. I don’t allow the permission for contacts or to record audio…however there have been a few instances where I forgot to deny them. My husband is fishing around try to get me to admit of pretending to be another woman he’s talking to….he said he can find out if the phone number is a true phone number or just an app…I am a manager at a cell phone company so I’m a little tech savvy, however this one I don’t understand…I’ve chosen a number that is a typical M*t*o By T-M***let number and the email on the account is a random one I just created.is there a way someone can take a number for an app like that and see if it’s linked to an actual number or email…he’s starting to make me feel like I’m crazy lol

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Try the SpyWarn app

From Kevin Murray on December 02, 2018 :: 9:56 am

Samantha,

To determine the likelihood of spyware residing on your Android phone use SpyWarn (on Google Play). It is a low-cost app which preforms a test while the phone is not being used for any other activity. Follow the direction precisely and you will have a very good indication if spyware is operating in the background. It also comes with a very informative e-book (included free) which contains a lot more information about keeping your mobile communications private.

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Hacked severly

From Ginamaria on December 09, 2018 :: 7:29 pm

I recently lost my Husband and his family member has hacked everything in my home and I know this for a fact because he and many others that he has encouraged to listen in to my children and grandkids and myself.I have recently discovered he maybe also videotaping also.I seriously need help for I am alone and feel violated due to I have a t.v in my bedroom where us girls are changing after are showers…Please I beg anyone who can help me out.Plz. Serious responses for he is retired with the law..Help me if you really honestly can.

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Immediately in neefektyviai of seirios help

From Ginamaria on December 09, 2018 :: 8:20 pm

Į havebeen repeately been trying to Šend a Message out for help in reguards to Having all my Electronic hacked and in need of help video taping involved…...plz.someone who Can help me kids involved….immediate responses

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suzanne kantra

From Jessica Garness on February 03, 2019 :: 10:26 pm

my lord, get a life

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Had experienced

From Ruvie Rose Sta Rita on February 05, 2019 :: 9:09 am

Ive been noticed that my fone has been hack coz my fone settings its just suddenly has changed by it self and someone control it even if the Bluetooth it just turning on by it self i also experienced that i got a passcode on my mobile it wont work then i was barrowed of my friend’s tablet to log in my fb ofcourse she got a passcode to her tablet that passcode on her tablet i did try to use it to my fone was working and i was like wtf hows that happened??!!! Then even i am not with them i can barely hear them on radio and the reflections of the lights into window or mirror i can see them i dont know how?!! Its really hard to explain,and i feel like someone watching me on my fone.u kno that feeling?! Its damn creepy and feels like not safe argh

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My daughter had a really strange encounter yesterday!

From Julie Hupe Wilson on February 10, 2019 :: 4:02 am

Hi Josh, my daughter and her friend took their kids to the mall and let them play today. While watching the children she noticed a lady with no children taking pictures of her son. She confronted the lady and asked her to delete the pictures. The lady said no that they were nice pictures and she was taking pictures of the play dog. My daughter asked to see the pictures and the lady showed her son but not all. She told the lady those were taken after you took pictures of my son I want to see the ones back farther. She started scrolling and my daughter saw her son and some other children. She said delete them and the lady told her no as she was sending them in text messages to someone finally after my daughter told her 3 times and she had sent them out she decided she would delete them. While she was at the play area she met a nice girl that thought it was strange this lady was doing this too. My daughter exchanged phone numbers with the girl and thought they might be friends. The girl was texting her pictures of her kids and asking my daughter to go to their birthday party through text shortly after she left the mall. Kinda strange. Then later in the evening she starts getting texts from a girl that follows her on Instagram but my daughter doesn’t follow back. She said hi it’s Jen I saw you at the mall didn’t have time to talk. My daughter asked her which Jen because she didn’t recognize the number. She answered with the last name Schultz my daughter looked her up and as she was looking her up she gets a text that says your son is getting so big, I miss you. So she is feeling really uneasy now. She finds Jen on Instagram Jen is following my daughter on there but my daughter has never talked to he just knows of her. She sends Jen a msg asking did you text me? Jen says no why is someone texting you saying it’s me? My daughter sent her the text msg’s and Jen said no I live out of state now and wasn’t at the mall and didn’t text you. Could someone be trying to hack her phone just by standing by her or try to get info about her son by hacking her phone? She is so scared

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Not hacking

From Josh Kirschner on February 12, 2019 :: 9:07 am

I’m a little confused by your story, but she gave out her phone number, so wouldn’t be hard to go from that to finding her or Instagram and, obviously, makes it easy to text her. There are, at least theoretical, ways to hack a phone in (very) close proximity via NFC, though that requires the phone to be unlocked, NFC to be turned on and likely would require interaction by the user (depending on operating system version). But I would say the former is far, far more likely and would be consistent with giving out your phone number.

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