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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 :: 749 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

I missed a call never

From Julie Lefler on July 26, 2018 :: 2:29 am

I missed a call never answer on minutes said used 4300 but never taken off what is this

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Phone mirrored, passwords changed too

From David Labrosse on September 07, 2018 :: 1:11 pm

My battery life is dying fast someone keeps changing my passwords and has mirrored my phone.  How do I stop this harassment

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Compromised

From Lee on October 26, 2018 :: 5:08 am

I just found out someone used a software that you have to pay for to hack my phone I’m very nervous of using it what should I do

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What software?

From Josh Kirschner on October 26, 2018 :: 11:47 am

What you need to do depends on what, exactly, happened. Can you provide more information? How do you know someone hacked your phone and what “software” do you think they used?

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SMH

From One who knows on October 28, 2018 :: 2:59 pm

Holiness and many others in this thread, couldn’t agree with you more. Josh Kirchner, idk what kind of expert you are but if infact you are im curious as to what type of vested interest you have with one/several spy app/monitoring software companies. You talk of how none of this is possible and all of it is very much possible. Once a device is compromised the a**#oles, individuals, agencies or just flat out black hat criminal ehackers are notified by these programs when passwords, phone numbers, actual phones themselves or SIMs are changed and they are notified as to what those new passwords, numbers and SIMs have been changed to. ALL WITH JUST A PHONE NUMBER…NO PHYSICAL ACCESS TO YOUR PHONE IS NEEDED!! AND as someone much earlier in this thread indicated all they have to do is wait for you to store a couple of your original contacts (mom, sis, charlie, penny) and BAM!!! THEY have zeroed in on you again, not to mention there is software now that even if you went out and got a new phone, number, SIM etc… And never stored one single contact they would find you and compromise your new device again…. How you ask?? By using the GPS and location technology that told them where you spent the most time with your previous device…aka HOME. Apps record your home location even if you never classified your home as “home” on maps or any other app. It is done automatically. There is no way to stop or escape this unless everyone you know gets a new phone, changes there number and SIM at exactly the same time as you and you all root or jailbreak your phones and have mock location apps installed. And from my understanding they can gain administrative rights to your phone by remotely installing system root authorization then they can look deep into the core or your phone and code will show them if you have a mock location app installed on your new phone…I’m sorry to say but the only way you are not going to be watched, monitored and spied on by your mobile device is to get rid of it….and if you do that or try to contain it in an RF proof box both of which I have done… The. NSA the FBI the CIA and several other agencies will think you’re trying to hide something and are up to no good and will physically watch and follow you…TRUTH!!!

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Sigh....

From Josh Kirschner on October 29, 2018 :: 1:02 pm

In case you missed the blatantly obvious note at the top of the article, this is a very old article and we have an updated story on additional hacking methods that have emerged since it was written (How to Tell if Your Phone Has Been Hacked).

That said, much of what you describe is not accurate, not possible or extremely unlikely unless you are the target of a national spy or law enforcement organization. And I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that you are probably not one of those people.

For those concerned about these risks, absolutely do not jailbreak or root your device - that will make your device less secure. Instead, ensure you keep your phone OS updated, do not click on unknown attachments in text messages or elsewhere and, for Android, install a reliable antimalware utility such as Lookout, Bitdefender or Norton. We have additional protection tips in our new story.

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time warp

From Sandy Griffith on November 02, 2018 :: 3:38 pm

My phone will be working fine then all of a sudden it will go back to a different date and time (in the past)

it will keep real time during this time and it will notify me of calls that will happen in 285 days and my carrier will state my next payment is due in 285 days.etc. this will go on for 20 minutes or so and then go back to real date and time i will turn phone off and on and it makes no difference. why does this happen

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Do you have automatic time sync on?

From Josh Kirschner on November 02, 2018 :: 5:21 pm

My guess is there is some app on your phone that is changing things to the past. This shouldn’t be happening as it would require permissions most apps shouldn’t have. Are you running Android or iOS and what version? Did you install any “clock” or other “non-standard” apps before this started happening?

Your phone should be set to automatically sync with the network provided time. That’s probably what is setting your time back to the correct time. But doesn’t explain why it’s going wrong in the first place.

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Been hacked and spy on by unknown

From Catherine on November 13, 2018 :: 11:53 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 :: 5:59 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 :: 10:56 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 :: 8:29 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 :: 9:20 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 :: 11:26 pm

my lord, get a life

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Had experienced

From Ruvie Rose Sta Rita on February 05, 2019 :: 10:09 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 :: 5:02 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 :: 10:07 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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My phone is hacked please

From Yvonne Perea on March 27, 2019 :: 4:40 pm

My phone is hacked please fix it

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Hacking

From Bravo Defcon on March 30, 2019 :: 7:19 pm

If you change your # & no lock code how easy is it for someone to hack your phone?

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Hi I just want to

From Adene Broughton on March 31, 2019 :: 12:35 am

Hi I just want to know if it is possible for someone else email address to logged in to my device when they haven’t touched it as my partner has found an email address on my device and I know for sure that this person has not touched this device but may have a device that I logged into ages ago and I didn’t log out of so could they then get email address on my new device please I need your help as my partner docent believe me and I’m 100percent sure this person has not touched my device

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Not sure how that could happen

From Josh Kirschner on April 01, 2019 :: 5:22 pm

It’s not clear if you mean their is a user account on your device attached to that email or your saying the address is logged in to some app (e.g.,  Gmail). For the user account, not sure how that could happen.

However, for an app or website, there’s one way I could see it being possible (though it seems unlikely). If that other person has a device you logged into, and the Chrome browser on that device is still logged in as you and you have it set up to manage your passwords, it’s possible that he could have saved his login for some app/site to Chrome. Then, when you went to that same site, Chrome autofilled his information and you didn’t notice.

You can research if this might be the case in your Google account security settings: https://myaccount.google.com/security-checkup/. Look at the signed-in devices under “Your devices” to see if anything looks suspicious.

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suspect

From Shawn Huffer on March 31, 2019 :: 11:15 pm

my gadget guardian keeps popping up sayin:  “Lookout blockedthis linkfor your protection: https:push-signals.online”    can you please tell me wat it is?

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Sounds like a web push notification service

From Josh Kirschner on April 01, 2019 :: 5:12 pm

Have you ever seen one of those boxes pop up when you visit a website asking if you would like to receive notifications from the site? If you click “Yes”, that website may send you updates about new stories or spam you with garbage. This sounds like one of those push notification services, but can’t tell for sure as their domain registration is anonymous.

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Being watched and heard

From Jerry on May 04, 2019 :: 8:25 pm

I have a girlfriend and her ex is able to download an app from his phone to mine. This app gives him the ability to watch me and listen to me,at all times. I tried turning off the camera and voice but this guy still able to do it. He can get into whatever o do and send me messages. He uses the titles,of things and true using certain words or names to send his message. What the he’ll can I do to stop this. His name is Clint Murphy from Marshall I’m.,or is there a way I can track the app and link back to him so I can nail his ads on invasion of privacy? Please help

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I cant live this way

From Anonymous on May 30, 2019 :: 4:35 pm

Iblame myself because I saw the sighns early on and was unable to separate myself from him. He has used 8 computers and 6 cell phones to film me and record all conversation. After Mathews (Apt flooded up to ceiling)lost basically all records except for a few. Living in this backward state where Trump voters who are majority of white men knew how dangerous he was as he attempted to kill me twice . Due to those incidents and fists hitting my head, I now have to have 2 vertebrai replaced with cages….I am trying to relay how dangerous he is. I live in chapel House NC a pretend town who pretend to care. He has tracked me using google andwent into DMV to get address after Mathews, even Prime Amazon andother streaming programs sent papers to the police because they saw on their end that he was changing passcodes and the account as the admin. This is so with my phone. Police say that I have to prove that it is coming from him , howver it goes ping in every country you can imagine. Now my flip phone which does not have the amount of gega bites ? He is going through camera and he is the admin of KAIson meaning he is the adminstator of my burnt phone. I no longer have a computer and had to get roku. After beating me, he chased me with a car down the high way and I thought he could have had his shotgun. Please note that after the flood. I was unable to use 8 phones and now this one. I feel afraid every time I leave the house and he had two folders for video and pic one called Target. This man is a well educated man that creates programs for PPD working with pharma and trained classically on the piano. He was safe and cowardly meaning, he was not an activist. Jesus Christ or Martin Luther King, but he terrorized me and we later found out after his admitions animals and pets. This is the first time I am writing or communicating. I just created an email but somehow he ends up finding them. Yes any info one can share, I would be grateful. I believe he might have put a tracker on my phone. I saw his x wife car and the locks on my car is destroyed. He might try to kill my service dog(I am still in denial as to the totality and extention of physical harm.  So any info on phones and a cheap way to see if there is a tracker on my car would be much appreciated.
Thank you

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build repor with friends and police presense

From jduran on June 09, 2019 :: 9:12 pm

ts dificult to say when they are doing this type of harassment normally it is not as covert as it seems to be
most just bluff in a way it seems like you explained but you can control more than you know make it seem not that they are getting caught or
someone is helping you is best an old friend dont tell them your unbelivabel story just worried that they taking advantage of you being alone
and talk to a police officer that it seems crazy but you know of harassment like this and want to prevent it from happening to you while building repor with
the officer too so as too they are aware of some situation and invite them over too you to show their presense is good for them to stop or avoid
the police and might get lucky and see the harassment

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