For most of us, spying is something we see in movies, TV shows, but rarely stop to think about in real lives. But, you should be aware of the fact that someone can be tracking certain metrics, logging internet browsing data, or remotely monitoring every single thing that you do on your phone. Most people don't think about the possibility of someone spying on their phone, but it is a real threat. There are many ways that someone can spy on your phone, from installing spyware to using a dedicated tracking app.
In this article, we're going to talk about how one can find out whether someone's spying, prevent attempts to install spyware or other similar software as well as get rid of it, if it's already installed.
Spying on phones - an overview
People are aware that some kind of monitoring goes on. They know that both businesses and governments can benefit from spying. Regardless, private individuals rarely have full knowledge of the scope and the depth as well as actual implications of the spying. Let's look at some stats.
As we can see, 15% of adult Americans think that no one tracks them through their phones. Around 30 million people are completely unaware of the fact that exploiting digital privacy and spying has brought in millions for some and billions to big data companies. Facebook has been at the forefront of a lot of controversies, related to spying on its users. The most famous being the Cambridge Analytica scandal (Click here to read more
But that shouldn't distract us from the fact that Facebook is just the best-known example and probably the company that's been exploiting this the most. However, others do it too. Google and its partners like YouTube, as well as the likes of Twitter and Amazon (e.g. platforms with lots of users), collect and analyze heaps of information about you in order to maximize their influence and profits. Suggestions for content, personalized ads, and AI-fueled algorithms are the bread and butter of how they make a lot if not almost all of their money.
Governments spying on citizens' phones
In one of our previous articles we've talked about this in-depth, so we won't go over bit by bit, but give a short, comprehensive rundown instead (Click here to read the full version
Trust in the government is high in only a handful of countries. In most parts of the world, people are generally not satisfied with the overall performance of their elected or appointed officials. Widespread belief of mass surveillance in almost half of the adult demographic can be linked with the very notable scandals of NSA & Edward Snowden as well as recent limelight that has been shining on China's social credit/score system, cameras in public places, etc.
Governments usually spy on your phone by the powers given to them by law. Simple as that. For example, it's likely that in your country, your mobile service carrier and/or ISP has, by law, to log your data and store it for 2-3 years or even indefinite amounts of time. If they want, they can put in a request with the carrier and they will be obliged to hand over all of the data that they have on you.
The UK has the 'Snooper's Charter' also known as the Investigatory Powers Act, which gives the government unprecedented levels of access to people's private lives via electronic surveillance.
Other countries are not to be left out either. Russia, for example, can legally intercept any electronic communications, including text messages, phone calls, and emails.
So if you really think that no one is spying on you, it might be worth rethinking it from a different perspective. Think about it this way - if someone can make money and gain power from spying on you and gathering information, would they be ethical enough to not do it? Do you trust them to make that decision? Let's leave it as a rhetorical question.
How spyware gets in your phone
Let's move back to spying on your phone that you can know about and be in full control of. Let's talk about spyware. By default, spyware is seldom installed in your app from the get-go. Even though you can call apps like 'Find my Phone' some sort of spyware, it's in your control and they do provide more benefits than drawbacks. We're talking about malicious spyware that appears on your phone from your belief of trickery and fraud coming from cybercriminals or malicious actors, trying to commit crimes.
Malware (spyware is in this category) is a huge issue for mobile phone users. Each year, millions of new malicious apps are registered by experts.
Here's how it can get into your phone.
Via third-party apps, downloaded from unofficial app stores or websites
You can infect your device with malicious spyware apps from unofficial app stores or websites. While the Google Play Store is pretty good at weeding out the malicious ones, it won't stop criminals from posting them elsewhere and disguising them as completely normal or even cutting-edge apps. So, if you're downloading an app from anywhere else other than the Play Store, be extra careful. Read reviews (if available), do a bit of research on the developer and make sure that what you're downloading is legit.
Via phishing emails and text messages
Phishing is a type of cyberattack where the attacker tries to trick you into giving them sensitive information, such as your password or bank details, usually through clever social engineering and fraud. They are able to lure away information successfully by disguising themselves as a trustworthy person or organization and sending you an email or text message that looks legitimate.
For example, you might get an email from your bank saying that there is an issue with your account and you need to log in through a particular link to fix it. Or it can also be a text message from your carrier saying that you've won a contest and you need to click on a link to claim your prize. Our advice would be to never click links through SMS messages and to avoid clicking links on emails that claim anything about urgency.
When your 'friend' messages you on social media
These hacks were pretty prevalent in the early 2010s, but now it seems that they're making a comeback. Your friend sends you a message on social media, saying that they found this really great video/article/app and they think you'll love it. The message is completely out of the blue but it usually comes from someone who's in your Facebook friends.
They include a convenient link to the content in the message. You click on the link and it takes you to a website or an app that looks completely legitimate. However, the virus can spread just like that and it can steal your login information, gather personal data and harass other users too. Our advice would be to not click links to untrustworthy websites from social media, especially if the message came unexpectedly with 0 context.
Via malicious ads and links
There are a lot of malicious ads and websites with malware all over them. Be extra careful when clicking on ads, especially if they're on a website with low domain authority. Avoid downloading files from sketchy sites too. Some tips to help you out:
- If an ad looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- Don't click on unknown shortened links, as you won't be able to tell where they'll take you.
- Research the product/company before clicking on anything.
It's good that more and more sites are very wary of these issues and if you try to leave a platform with a link that takes you to another domain, the platform warns you about the possible risks. It's good to have it in mind.
Via public Wi-Fi networks
When connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, be aware that there might be someone on the same network who is trying to intercept your data. This is especially common in public places.
If you must connect to a public Wi-Fi network, make sure you're using a VPN and not logging in to sensitive sites like social media, bank accounts, etc.
What kinds of data can spyware collect?
The worst thing about spyware on the phone is the almost limitless amounts of data a criminal can get their hands on. We do so much with our phones. We communicate, pay bills, run businesses, manage our insurance, can track medical records, and do much more. The vast information and data resources attract all kinds of criminals. They usually want to gather data that could be later sold or held for ransom. Still, it's worth knowing what's being targeted the most.
Any type of data that is stored on your phone unencrypted can be accessed and retrieved by spyware, including your communication history and contact information.
- Text messages
- Call history
Especially, if you're an executive or a decision-maker, access to such information can be exploited by your competitors or regulators even.
There are also plenty of other data points that spyware could target, such as:
- Images and videos
- GPS location data
- Browser history
- App usage data
Why would spyware target it? This information is valuable to many criminals as it can be used for:
- Identity theft
- Fraudulent charges
- Targeted advertising
How to get rid of spyware on your phone?
The best way is to install an antivirus app that can detect and remove any malicious software on your device.
How do these antivirus apps work and prevent spyware from taking over? The features can differ but the underlying basics should remain the same. Such apps usually have two features - a file scanner that checks every app you install for malicious code. It also performs periodic file checks for any changes and threats. Also, there's a real-time protection feature that monitors your device for any suspicious activity.
There are plenty of great security apps out there that can help you rid your phone of spyware. You can download and use them for free or upgrade for a premium membership at just a fraction of what it would cost to restore damages after an attack.
In short - prevention is the best form of defense.
End-to-end encryption - the best way to avoid spyware
We strongly recommend using end-to-end encryption for all of your digital communication. This way, even if someone is trying to spy on you, they won't be able to understand what is being said because they won't be able to read what's being said.
Kraden utilizes end-to-end encryption and relies on secure P2P connection establishment to help users communicate privately and securely. Throughout the sign-up process, you won't need to enter any of your private or sensitive personal information and can use our app fully anonymously. Check out more info on Kraden (Click here
Spyware is a serious threat to our privacy and should not be taken lightly. Both businesses and governments do it (to a varying degree), not to mention black hat hackers and cybercriminals. There are ways to protect yourself, but the best defense is always prevention. Be careful what apps you install on your phone and only download them from reputable sources. Keep your software up to date and never click on links or attachments from unknown senders. And finally, use end-to-end encryption for all of your communication to make sure that even if someone is spying on you, they won't be able to decrypt what's being said.