If your phone is acting a little sluggish, it may be because spyware has wormed its way into your phone’s system -- tracking every click you make, every step you take, and anything and everything you do. And the situation could get worse before it gets better, too.
Like the rest of the world, malware took 2020 off, but now it’s back with a vengeance. In 2021, Malwarebytes detected 77% more malicious software than in 2020. The study said that malware threats made on consumers last year eclipsed 150 million.
Consumers have their work cut out for them
Before you go pointing fingers at Google or Apple or your carrier, they’re doing all they can. For its part, Apple unleashed Lockdown Mode to protect iPhone owners.
Google’s been busy protecting its Play Store from Potentially Harmful Applications (PHAs), too. It’s gotten the number of PHAs down to less than 1% of the total apps installed, but spyware accounts for 48% of those.
Still, when you look at how many apps installed from Google Play, that sub-1% still adds up to the possibility that hundreds of millions of spyware-laden apps are winding up on people’s phones.
How do you know if spyware is on your phone? Cybersecurity experts from VPNOverview have collected the top five warning signs that could indicate that hackers are using your phone to spy on you. The study also details how you can prevent and remove spyware that hackers may have installed onto your phone.
The Top 5 signs you’re being spied on
1. Slow performance
The number one indication that spyware is on your phone is that your device is constantly slow – slow because it’s running rampant in the background uploading your personal data, your photos, your documents, and other files to an external server.
The VPNOverview experts say you can make sure this isn’t happening by checking your phone for any unfamiliar apps and scanning any hidden apps using an antivirus program. If you find an app that seems suspicious, deleting it may improve the performance of your device.
“Whilst some spyware is hidden by hackers, some spyware programs will appear amongst your apps," the VPNConnect cybersecurity team told ConsumerAffairs.
"These apps may show up as parental control apps intended to be used to monitor a child’s cyber safety, however, they could have been installed by a jealous ex-partner to spy on you,"
What are some apps that you should look for? The analysts singled out these: mSpy, Spyera, Flexispy, Umobix, Ikey Monitor, and Clevguard.
2. Random reboots
Another tell-tale sign that spyware is on the loose is that your phone reboots without your authorization or because it overheated or is doing a typical system update.
“This can indicate that someone has remote, administrator-level access to your phone. The hacker can do whatever they want with your device if this is the case,” VPNConnect analysts said. “To rule out the presence of spyware, you can update your phone’s operating system, and delete any malfunctioning apps. If neither of these solutions solves the random reboots, you may have spyware on your phone.”
3. Strange text messages
With robocalls being throttled thanks to new rules from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), smishing has taken its place and, with that, hackers are employing text messages to take a screenshot, detect your location or even gain control of your phone.
“You should be not only vigilant of incoming texts but also outgoing texts as a hacker can send text messages from your phone to communicate with their own server," VPNConnect warned.
"Any message that looks unfamiliar, sounds like gibberish, or appears outright strange should be ignored. This is especially the case for unfamiliar texts containing links; these links can allow a hacker access to your phone if clicked on.”
Summer is pretty much gone so a phone being overheated naturally from the elements should be dwindling. However, if your phone is still overheating, it’s possible that the heat is coming from a malicious app running in the background, especially if the overheating occurs when the phone is on standby.
How can you make sure if it’s spyware or not? First, make sure that your phone doesn’t have a hardware issue or check that the apps you have installed are not large resource consumers.
To do that, the VPNConnect folks suggest going into your phone’s settings and checking your app list to see which apps use the most resources (apps are usually presented in order of most resource use, by the way).
“Some apps will have legitimate reasons for taking up energy on your phone, but any that use more than they should (may) be the culprit and should be deleted,” the analysts said.
5. Unusually high data usage
If you’re not a big data hog – like watching a ton of videos – but still see your data usage higher than you think it should be, it may be a cause for concern.
“A hacker’s primary goal is to harvest your data, to sell it to the black market, or use it to blackmail you. To gather this information, a hacker will remotely access your phone and transfer your files to their server, which requires data usage on your end,” VPNConnect privacy pros said.
“Therefore, if your cellular data usage seems unusually high, this could indicate that something suspicious is going on with your phone. It is a good idea to keep track of your monthly data use to identify any unexpected spikes.”