Most people understand that it’s possible for someone to spy on them through their smartphone. While some spying is relatively subtle, most methods of doing so cause device changes that indicate a potential problem. You might notice an unexpected adjustment to settings, shifts in your phone’s performance, or downloaded files or apps you don’t recognize.
In this article, we’ll walk through nine signs of spying activity.
1. Background App Activity
Spyware applications often operate in the background, essentially staying on at all times or when a connected party wants to monitor your activity. Usually, this can trigger high battery usage and poor device performance, as the background activity can take up a significant amount of your device’s resources.
The exact nature of the background activity can vary depending on what the spyware does. Some allow people to turn on the camera or microphone, giving them a way to watch and listen to you. Others log your device actions, including the calls you make, messages you send, apps you use, and login credentials you enter.
Usually, if your device is acting sluggish or the battery is draining fast, you want to check your apps list for unfamiliar applications. You can also check the recent apps button to see if something unexpected is operating.
Another option is to check your app permissions to see if an application is accessing your camera or microphone. While many apps have a legitimate reason to connect to those services, if an app you don’t recognize is, research it to ensure it isn’t something that allows a person to watch you.
2. Odd Camera Behavior
One red flag that someone is using your phone’s camera to watch you is strange camera behavior. For example, if you go to use the camera and get an alert that it’s already in use, that’s a sign of potential spyware.
A camera that seems to instantaneously turn on when you access it – instead of a brief startup delay or a second or two – also indicates a problem. That can mean that the camera was already on because it was in use through another app.
However, there are other device or application issues that may lead to the symptoms above. Still, if you notice odd camera behavior, it’s wise to dig into the problem and determine the cause.
3. Strange Camera Light Behavior
Even if the camera itself isn’t acting strangely, weird camera indicator light behavior could mean that someone else is turning the camera on to watch you. While some kinds of spyware can disable the light – meaning the camera can run without the indicator turning on – not all spyware has that capability.
Ultimately, if you see a camera indicator light is on even if you aren’t using the camera, that can indicate that someone else is tapped into your camera. As a result, it’s critical to look for potential causes, such as spyware apps with camera access.
It’s important to note that not all phones come with a camera indicator light. Instead, there may be a small symbol that’s only visible if the screen is turned on. Still, the same advice applies if you see that indicator when you’re not using the camera.
4. Unexpected Screen Behavior
Many forms of spyware run in the background, so they’ll operate even if your device is in standby mode, where the screen is off or is only showing a clock or something similar. However, if your device is in standby mode and suddenly flicks on even if you didn’t touch it and there’s no visible activity that should have triggered it, that could mean that a spyware app was turned on or accessed by another party.
Generally, this occurs when an idle spyware app switches to a more active state. For example, it could happen if a party that’s using the spyware app to watch you turns on the camera to see you. Usually, the screen only lights up momentarily upon the app’s activation. However, it can continue running even as the screen fades out.
Now, it’s critical to understand that a wide array of device activities could cause a screen to come on, such as a legitimate notification from an app you use. However, if you can’t connect it to a specific device activity, it’s time to check your device for spyware.
5. Photos, Videos, or Audio Files You Didn’t Create
Another sign that someone is potentially watching or listening to you through your smartphone is photo, video, or audio files saved on your device or in your cloud storage that you didn’t create. In some cases, you might notice the files if you’re viewing your storage. In others, the issue might not end up apparent until you’re getting a low storage warning.
Overall, videos take up a lot of room, even if they’re compressed. Photos and audio files are often quite sizeable, though not as big. If you see strange files, it’s wise to handle them with caution. There’s also a chance that they’re related to another kind of malware, so make sure to scan the files for malware before engaging with them. After that, you may be able to view them and see if they align with spying behavior.
6. Higher Data Usage
While some spyware applications store video, photo, and audio files on your device, others upload the information to a separate location that’s accessible by the person watching you. For that to happen, it has to use a data network. That can include cellular data services or Wi-Fi connections. In either case, your device may log higher than normal data usage if that’s occurring.
Generally, this issue is more obvious if you’re using a limited data plan, as it could trigger warnings or additional costs if the data consumption exceeds your account limit. However, devices usually track this information for both data network and Wi-Fi usage. Additionally, unlimited wireless data plans typically still track how much you’re using.
As a result, you can check to see if your data usage has increased with relative ease. If you see amounts far above what you’d expect for your activity level, that’s a red flag.
7. Your Location Is Being Accessed
In some cases, a person that’s watching you doesn’t just want to view or hear you through your device; they also want to know your physical location. Spyware apps may come with location tracking, allowing the application to pass that information along to another person. Additionally, built-in services like Find My Device or Find My iPhone can have location-sharing features, giving a person access to where you are through a non-malicious app.
If you’re concerned about spyware, the best first step is to check the list of all applications that have location permissions. If an app you aren’t familiar with is tapping into that data, research it to determine if it’s malicious.
For legitimate apps, you’ll need to explore the settings to see if your location is being shared with someone else. If a person may be using your login credentials to access those services through another device, you may see notifications that the services were used to locate you. In that case, update your password to prevent further access.
8. Poor Video Call Performance
While video call performance can vary for a wide variety of reasons – including connection strength, bandwidth availability, device background processes, and more – poor performance that doesn’t align with common issues could mean someone else is watching you during the conversation. Hackers can intercept video calls, either watching them as they occur or recording them for future viewing. Since that creates more activity during the call, the performance may degrade.
Often, determining whether spyware is responsible isn’t always as easy when the call is happening. Primarily, that’s because people know that a range of circumstances can impact the call, and most of them aren’t nefarious. However, if you previously had little issue with video calls and are suddenly experiencing ongoing problems, it’s worth looking into further.
9. Strange Sounds During Calls
Hearing odd noises during phone calls is another sign that there’s potentially spyware on your device. Generally, cell phones are known for reliable call clarity. If you hear strange sounds, that could mean something is recording or listening to the calls. Similarly, if you think you hear another voice on the line that isn’t one of the call participants, that’s a red flag.
Often, these issues are related to spyware. As a result, it’s time to check your device for malicious apps or files.