How to Detect Stalkerware on Your Phone

Amora R Jelo

Although phones aren’t the most secure devices, most people should worry more about eavesdropping via social media than an obsessed acquaintance. Unfortunately, software that allows people to “stalk” your phone without you knowing exists.

While forms of legal spyware do exist, it’s generally illegal for individuals to install such software on the personal devices of their targeted victims.

But legal or not, that doesn’t stop some people from using stalkerware where prohibited. These acts are a massive violation of privacy, but there are some small things you can do to detect spyware on the phone and get rid of it.

What Is Stalkerware?

stalker

Spyware and stalkerware refer to software designed specifically to spy on other devices. They refer to the same thing, although “stalkerware” has more of a negative connotation. People tend to refer to it as stalkerware rather than spyware when they feel like their privacy is violated.

Spyware and stalkerware are popular programs used by parents or bosses to monitor device activity (although there is some ethical debate on whether or not this is a good idea). They compromise the privacy of employees or children, and open up the possibility of it falling into the wrong hands.

Although controversial, it’s pretty easy to obtain these downloads legally. Depending on the software, you can do anything from tracking internet searches and recording calls to accessing your text messages and watching people through their camera. Many apps work in the background, so someone would not even realize they were active.

How Does Stalkerware Get on My Device?

A chief stalkerware problem is that anyone can download it. Very few companies make you prove anything at all before you enlist in their services. How are they to know if you are a concerned parent a strict boss, or someone else?

Legal stalkerware requires that someone gets a hold of your device so you can physically download the program like any app. Sometimes, downloads happen directly through an online store. Others require hooking your device up to a computer. Luckily, iPhone users should be happy to know their devices limit apps to Apple’s official App Store.

There are also unlawful techniques that get stalkerware on devices. These approaches are no easy feat and require a decent amount of technical skill. Such strategies include developing viruses for remotely-downloaded apps, or tweaking the hardware.

Signs of Stalkerware on a Phone

worried woman

It’s scary to think about how someone could spy on you so easily. But luckily, you have plenty of options when determining whether or not you have stalkerware on your phone.

You should note, though, that these events are merely signs of spyware and not indefinite proof. Many phones suffer from these problems without having any spyware on them at all. However, if you experience one or more of these problems, you may want to consider troubleshooting your phone.

Unexplained Data Use

Spyware that constantly transmits information to another source requires a lot of data. Most of us don’t spend our entire lives connected to Wi-Fi, so our phones reflect app usage off Wi-Fi via the data. Even if you don’t give explicit permission, many apps work in the background and use up data.

If you notice your phone bill claiming that your data use was higher than you expected, look at your phone history. Try to see if you can explain the spike of data usage with another app. If not, spyware might be a hidden culprit.

Poor Battery Life

Battery life tends to diminish with the age of a phone. But sometimes, poor battery life is more than just regular aging. Background apps eat away at your battery and are often responsible for phones that die too soon. Stalkerware is one of the many apps that would do this.

Slower Processing Speed

If your phone runs slow for seemingly no reason, you may want to consider investigating the issue. Poor processing speed is another sign that something is wrong with your phone, or that background apps are taking up too many resources. This sign may reflect in your phone taking forever to open up the internet or delaying when you restart your device.

Random Unauthorized Commands

Unless your phone dies, rebooting it or shutting it down is something you need to perform physically. If your phone randomly shuts down on its own with sufficient battery life, someone may have remote access to your phone. Be wary about unexplained notifications, too.

Your phone should light up to reflect actions (such as app notifications, charging alerts, or movement). If your phone remains idle and randomly lights up, perhaps background apps are causing the problem. Sometimes, these background apps—including spyware—do not give a written notification.

Background Noise During Calls

An alarming sign something is wrong with your phone is if you hear weird, unexplained sounds during voice calls. Background noise is not uncommon, but you should take this seriously when you regularly hear rustling (or worse, a voice). It’s a sign someone tapped into your call and is actively listening.

Surprise Text Messages

Another scary event is when it seems as though people in your contacts receive texts or calls from you that you didn’t make. These can devastate your reputation and damage relationships. It’s important to point out that some apps also allow people to impersonate numbers. Either way, these are clear signs that someone is trying to interfere with your life.

What Should I Do if I Find Stalkerware?

police

If you find stalkerware on your device, you should take immediate action. You need to get rid of the app before it can take more information from you. Reach out to local law enforcement as this is illegal, and a computer forensics expert may investigate your care further. Their findings may be evidence in a court case.

Related: Are You Being Watched? An Introduction to Legal Tracking Apps

After addressing the legal aspect, get the malicious software off your phone! The best way to do this is by performing a factory reset. Be wary of any signs someone wants to try and reinstall spyware or stalkerware back on your phone.

Should I Worry About Stalkerware on My Phone?

Stalkerware attacks are a rare occurrence, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. Learning a bit about malicious software and identifying the signs is a great way to keep your information safe and private. This knowledge gives you peace of mind and lets you take control over your data security.


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