How to Stop Someone from Spying on Your Cell Phone

There are many ways someone can spy on your cell phone, such as via spyware or a stolen passcode. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to stop someone from spying on your phone. Read on.

Update Your Passcode

Generally speaking, it’s far more likely that someone you know will spy on your smartphone than a random hacker. Updating your password, PIN number, or security pattern prevents someone who knows how to access your device now from spying on your cell phone once you make the change. Just make sure not to share the new passcode with anyone. Otherwise, you’re at risk again.

It’s also wise to update your passcode on a regular basis. Choosing a strong password over a short PIN number is also more effective since it’s harder to guess the password if you follow password creation best practices, like not using a familiar word, mixing cases, having numbers, and including symbols.

Switching to a biometric unlock option could also prevent spying. Fingerprint or facial recognition options ensure the device is only accessible to its owner. As a result, it limits the likelihood that someone could simply guess until they get the right password.

Keep Your Apps and Device Updated

Updating your device and apps ensures that you have the latest security features in place, making your smartphone harder to hack. Many hacks rely on vulnerabilities in old versions of apps and operating systems. By transitioning to the newest versions, you’re potentially less at risk. Some device updates may even prevent spyware that’s already installed from continuing to work.

How you update your operating system can vary by device, though you can typically check for new updates through the settings section. App updates are often listed through the app store where you downloaded the application.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication makes it harder for someone to access various accounts. With that feature turned on, your username and password alone aren’t enough to log into the accounts. Instead, a second code – usually delivered via email or text – is also required to sign in. Unless the person spying has access to that secondary code, they can’t get into the account.

You can also get authenticator apps that provide the second required code. This could be a solid choice if your email or text messages are potentially being spied on, as it doesn’t send the code to one of those accounts. Instead, a rotating code is presented on a screen in the app.

Check Your Apps List

Looking over the list of your installed apps can create opportunities to identify spyware applications and remove them as quickly as possible. The process may vary slightly by device type, but the basics include accessing your apps list through settings and looking for suspicious applications. If you don’t recognize the name of an app, you can research it to determine if it’s potentially malicious.

It’s also wise to see if the unfamiliar app is accessing specific device services. Spyware often accesses location, camera, and microphone features. If the app has those permissions, that’s usually a red flag.

Once you find an app you want to remove, you can potentially click uninstall after tapping on the application name. If that option isn’t available, you may need to go through a device admin section to make a change to it before trying to uninstall it through the apps section.

See Who’s Signed into Your Browser

Some people use browsers to monitor the activities of others. For example, they could update the sign-in email on Google Chrome, switching it to theirs. Then, they can see a lot of internet browsing information on your device, such as pages visited, saved login credentials, and more.

Generally, you can see what email address is signed in by heading to the account section of a browser. If the email address isn’t yours, sign out and turn off any syncing. Then, you can sign into your account if you wish. However, it’s wise to update your associated password and the passwords for any accounts you’ve accessed through that browser, just in case the person already recorded them.

Look for Location Sharing

In some cases, the person spying on you through your cell phone is primarily concerned with knowing your physical location. As a result, they might make changes to mapping or location apps to share your data with their device.

Usually, you can simply check the applications to see if location sharing is active. In Google Maps, head to the Account section, go to Location Sharing, and remove any accounts you don’t want to be listed. For Find My iPhone, open the app, tap Me, and turn off Share My Location.

Use a Malware Scanner

Malware scanners can detect suspicious apps or files that are associated with a variety of viruses, spyware applications, and more. Choose a reputable malware detector from a known company. After downloading that application, immediately run a full scan to see if it spots any problematic apps.

Some malware scanners can automatically handle spyware removal. Others may quarantine the app, preventing it from working until you can delete it manually.

Once you have a malware scanner, either set up regularly occurring automatic scans or manually conduct scans at least once a week. That ensures that any malicious applications or files are identified quickly.

Install a VPN

Virtual private network (VPN) services encrypt data traffic between your device and various online services. As a result, they significantly reduce the odds that someone can successfully spy on your online activities.

While a VPN won’t stop all spying activity, it’s a simple option to use, and it can make a difference. Plus, it helps protect you from malicious actors even if no one is spying on your phone, which is a bonus.

Factory Reset the Device

Generally, a factory reset is considered a last resort, as it erases everything on your phone aside from the original operating system and pre-installed applications. Essentially, it restores the phone to its initial state, just as it was when you first got the device.

The benefit is that a factory reset can typically tackle even the most stubborn spyware apps, and it moves all built-in features back to their original settings. However, you’ll also need to update any potentially compromised passwords on accounts you accessed before the wipe.

While you could back up some information before you do the factory reset, that isn’t wise if you think there’s a spyware app tracking your device or if it maintains any application settings. Primarily, that’s because restoring that information could reinstall the malware or reestablish the problematic settings, essentially moving you back to square one.

Get a New Phone

Another last-resort option is getting a new phone. Again, you won’t want to transfer any information stored on your current device to the new one, as that risks installing malicious files or apps on the new smartphone. Instead, you’ll want to start from scratch. Additionally, it’s best to change your password on any account you access through your phone browser or apps, just as a precaution.

Different Ways Someone Can Spy on Your Cell Phone

Generally, people spy on devices either by directly engaging with the device to make changes or by installing malicious applications. The former primarily involves a person you know who’s able to log into your phone. That can include someone you’ve given your passcode to or someone who knows you well enough to guess it, suggesting your passcode uses information that’s widely known, such as birthdates, pet names, or something similar.

Spyware can come from known people and hackers you’ve never engaged with previously. With the former, a person you know may access your device directly and install an application that lets them monitor your activity. With the latter, it’s more common that the application was downloaded through a malicious link or a harmful file you downloaded.

In some cases, a person can spy on your cell phone a bit by accessing accounts relating to the device. Wireless bills, browser histories, and cloud storage solutions connected to your device are three examples in this arena.

How to Tell Is Someone Is Spying on Your Cell Phone

Unexpected Changes

There are some classic signs that someone is spying on your cell phone. Changes to any of your device, app, or account settings could indicate that a person is opening your phone and interacting with it directly. Similarly, deleted images or message conversations could mean someone else is making changes.

High Data and Battery Usage

For spyware apps, one of the most common signs is oddly high data and battery usage. Signs of activity when your device is in standby mode – such as the screen turning on when there’s no reason it should – or reboots without a clear origin are also red flags. Similarly, high battery temperatures when your device is in standby mode and not currently being charged indicate background activity, and that could be due to a spyware app operating.

Long Shutdowns, Restarts, and Boot Ups

In some cases, a long device shutdown or restart time when you’re rebooting your device is also indicative of spyware. Usually, when devices shut down or restart, the first step is to close out any active processes. If there’s spyware running, that’s another process that gets halted, which can increase the time required.

Similarly, a slower boot-up time could be a sign. If the spyware app is designed to begin running right when your device powers up, that could lead to a sluggish initial performance while the device boots. At times, spyware may even stop you from fully shutting down or restarting your device, leading to abnormal behavior if you attempt those actions.

Slow Performance

A noticeably slower performance could also mean that spyware or other malicious programs are running on your device. The associated background processes use device resources, making it harder for your smartphone to complete tasks when you’re using it.

Strange Noises During Calls

If you’re hearing weird noise in the background during phone calls, that could be a sign of spyware or hacks. Receiving strange texts or hearing that contacts are getting odd messages from you can also mean your device is compromised.

However, it’s best to treat any odd behavior by your device as a potential sign of an infection of some kind. A wide variety of malware can cause performance issues, excessive data usage, quicker battery drains, and other problems. As a result, you’ll want to examine your device and use a malware scanner to see if there are any malicious files or apps right away, allowing you to address the problem as soon as possible.

About the Author

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Catherine Reed

Catherine Reed is a writer and researcher with experience writing about a wide variety of topics including personal finance, technology, and staffing.