Big brother is watching. Without your knowledge, someone you've never met could be gathering information on your interactions on your cellphone, including your messages, web searches and social media comments. Spyware is typically installed on your device through a download or link click, but it can be installed by someone who has access to your phone.
Types of Spyware
Spyware comes in a variety of forms, including:
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- Adware and tracking cookies: This software is used by businesses to track your online activities for data-gathering purposes. The information may be used to determine which ads to serve you in the future. This type of spyware typically doesn't harm your phone aside from slowing it down.
- Trojans: Often this type of malicious software is downloaded to your phone by you when you click on a link or download an attachment. It gathers information on your activities, which can include your banking information, and sends it to a third party.
- Keyloggers: After it is installed, a keylogger logs everything you type and sends it to a third party. Traditionally, keylogging was geared toward computers, but it is found on smart phones, as well.
- Stalkerware: This is the type of software that's likely installed manually by someone you know who has access to your phone. However, you might install it by clicking on a link or downloading an attachment.
Having spyware on your phone can be dangerous, particularly if sensitive data like your banking account information is being transmitted to a different location. It's important to know how to detect when spyware is present, but it's even more important to prevent its installation in the first place.
Detecting Spyware on Your Phone
One of the first signs spyware is on your phone is abnormally high data usage. You can monitor your monthly data usage on your phone under the settings or through your provider's website. You may also find that your phone randomly lights up or buzzes while in standby mode, possibly indicating activity that you didn't initiate.
Some signs of spyware are easily mistaken for the typical behaviors a phone exhibits as it ages. The battery life declines if spyware is present or you notice the phone begins to slow down. To remove spyware, you need virus protection software that can scan and remove the malicious software. You can also reset your phone to factory settings to get rid of unwanted software.
Cellphone Spyware Prevention
It's easiest to protect your phone from manually installed spyware such as stalkerware and keyloggers. You can't keep it with you at all times, but you can take measures to ensure only you can access it. Choose a long password that can't easily be guessed and set it to kick in quickly when your phone is idle. These actions are a little inconvenient, but they are well worth the trouble if you avoid dealing with spyware.
Preventing remote spyware installation is more complicated. Measures you can take to reduce your risk include:
- Install only trusted software. Go directly to your phone's app store to get any software you're interested in having on your phone and carefully read through reviews before downloading.
- Be wary of granting permissions to apps to access your camera, contacts list and other applications. If given the choice, opt to allow access only while you're using the app.
- Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments. If you receive a message that one of your accounts needs attention, exit the email and go to the website in your browser. Always hesitate to download unexpected attachments. If in doubt, contact the sender separately – without replying to the email – and verify that the download is legitimate.