Mobile Spyware: How to Tell If Your Phone Is Being Monitored

Alert icon, phone, eye icon and magnifier on a light blue background
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How to Tell If Your Phone Is Being Monitored: A Quick Summary

Our smartphones contain an incredible amount of information about us, including our memories, communications with loved ones, and even our physical movements. Are you worried someone is spying on your phone and has access to all of this information?

Here are some signs that could indicate your smartphone is infected by stalkerware:

  1. Your phone randomly reboots without your permission.
  2. You notice your phone is slow and takes longer to load than before.
  3. You receive strange text messages you can’t place.
  4. Your device tends to overheat for no reason.
  5. You notice unusually high data usage on your smartphone.
  6. Unfamiliar apps show up in your app list.
  7. Your phone battery drains faster than usual.
  8. Your device takes a long time to shut down.
  9. You hear weird sounds during phone calls.
  10. Your phone shows signs of activity in standby mode.

If you have spyware on your phone, you can get rid of it by deleting any suspicious apps, doing a thorough scan of your device with a strong antivirus program, or doing a full factory reset. If you’re looking for a good antivirus solution, we recommend Norton 360 for mobile.

Get Norton 360

If you want to protect yourself against mobile spyware, here are a few key ways to keep your phone and data safe:

  • Don’t click on suspicious links.
  • Only download apps from official app stores.
  • Restrict app permissions where possible.
  • Use a VPN to protect your online presence.
  • Don’t trust strangers with your phone.
  • Avoid jailbreaking or rooting your cell phone.

Looking for a good VPN to use? Our go-to is NordVPN. It’s relatively cheap, reliable, and offers the highest level of protection you could wish for.

Read our full article below for more information on mobile spyware, how to spot it, and how to protect your smartphone so it cannot be used to spy on you.

In the last few years, there has been an explosion of malicious apps known as stalkerware or spyware. These apps can be found everywhere on the internet — even in the Google Play Store and, to a lesser degree, the Apple App Store. Once installed on your phone, these apps might access your messages, record your calls, listen in on your conversations using your phone’s microphone, and so much more.

The New York Times reported in 2021 that there was a 65% jump in spyware-infected phones. To make matters worse, stalkerware and spying apps are getting sneakier and harder to detect. In this article, we’ll show you how to check if your phone is being spied on. We’ll also tell you how you can keep your information secure and out of a bad actor’s hands.

10 Signs That Your Phone Might Be Spied On

Unfortunately, it’s quite easy for hackers to get access to your phone. For them, it can be as simple as making you install an app or getting you to click a link. Once the software is on your phone, it can be hard to remove. Sometimes, you might not even notice it’s there in the first place.

So, how can you detect spyware on iPhone and Android? Here are ten common signs that might indicate your phone is being monitored.

Ten signs that your phone might be spied on, with illustrations

Keep in mind that any of these signs could also indicate other problems, like a malfunctioning app or a broken smartphone battery. If you can’t find a good reason for your phone behaving in a certain way, however, you might be dealing with spyware. This is especially the case if you notice multiple signs on your device.

1. Random reboots

Is your phone experiencing random reboots that you didn’t authorize? This can indicate that someone has remote access to your phone. The most concerning aspect of this is that, if an adversary can reboot your phone remotely, they most likely have administrator-level access to your phone. This allows them to do whatever they want with your device.

However, random reboots aren’t always caused by spy software. Other possible causes include:

  • A faulty or malfunctioning app: try to remove and reinstall any app that misbehaves and see if this solves the problem.
  • A vulnerability in your OS: update your operating system for the latest patches and check whether the random reboots have disappeared.

If the solutions mentioned above haven’t worked and your smartphone still suffers from random reboots, you should be wary. Spyware could be messing with your device.

2. Slow performance

If your phone is constantly slowing down or lagging, this could be caused by malware. Spyware (which is a specific type of malware) operates in the background of your device and uploads your data, photos, and documents to an external server. These tasks are resource-intensive, resulting in slow performance.

To make sure this isn’t happening, you can use your phone’s application settings to keep track of which apps are running. Make sure you’re familiar with all the apps that are running and the exact permissions granted to them. Is there an app you don’t recognize or does an app need far more permissions than is strictly necessary? Then you can always delete those apps and see if your device’s performance improves.

Unfortunately, spyware creators are cunning, making spyware very difficult to detect in your app list. That’s why you should consider scanning for any hidden apps or processes with harmful intent using a smartphone antivirus program.

3. Strange text messages

Through text messages, black hat hackers can detect your locationtake a screenshot, or even gain total control of your smartphone. Text messages can even be used to send commands to your phone or communicate with an attacker’s server. That’s why you should be vigilant when it comes to both incoming and outgoing texts.

Any message that is unfamiliar to you, could be bad news. Signs to look out for are messages that appear like gibberish, random conversations, or anything that seems outright strange. Aside from that, you should never click links in text messages you don’t trust, as this could be how spyware gets on your phone.

4. Overheating

An overheating phone, especially when it’s in standby mode, could be a clue that there’s more going on on your device than meets the eye. Malicious apps could be running in the background, transmitting files to an external server or recording your conversations.

However, there are also other, less threatening, reasons for overheating. It could be a hardware issue that needs to be addressed or a valid app that’s consuming a lot of resources owing to poor programming or configurations.

Is your phone overheating regularly? Check your app list in your phone’s settings. Modern smartphones often categorize apps by resource use, so simply check the top of the list (follow the step-by-step mentioned under sign 5) to quickly discover significant resource consumers. Any app that takes up more energy than it should, is likely the culprit.

If you can’t find a logical explanation for persisting overheating issues, we strongly recommend you scan your device with antivirus software. One great option is Norton 360. It will check your phone extensively for any sneaky or hidden apps and erase them right away.

5. Unusually high data usage

If your cellular data usage seems uncharacteristically high, this is a sure sign that something suspicious is going on with your phone. At the end of the day, a hacker’s main goal is to harvest your data, whether they want to sell it on a black market, such as Genesis Market, or use it to blackmail you. To harvest this information, they will remotely access your phone and transfer your files to their server, which requires data usage on your end.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep track of your monthly data use. If you start to notice frequent or unexpected spikes in your monthly data usage, we recommend that you look into it.

How to monitor app data usage on Android

You can monitor app data usage on an Android device by following the steps below:

  1. Go to “Settings.”
  2. Select “Connections.”
  3. Screenshot of Android, Settings
  4. Click on “Data Usage.”
  5. Screenshot of Android, Connections
  6. Finally, click on “Mobile Data Usage.”
  7. Screenshot of Android data usage
  8. You’ll get a list of apps arranged according to data usage.
  9. Screenshot of Android phone, Mobile data usage

Here, you can view the total data usage over a given period, usually a month, and the apps that have consumed the data. It’s a good idea to go through the list and try to spot any suspicious apps consuming your data.

How to monitor app data usage on iPhone

On iPhone, follow the steps below:

  1. Open “Settings.”
  2. Tap “Mobile Data.”
  3. Screenshot of iPhone, Settings
  4. Tap “Current Period.”
  5. Screenshot of iPhone, Mobile Data
  6. Here, you can view the data usage for individual apps.
  7. Screenshot of iPhone, Mobile data, app usage

The cause of high levels of data use could be something innocent, like a recently downloaded app that is heavily consuming data due to app-specific downloads. If you can’t find a logical explanation, however, someone could be spying on your phone.

6. Unfamiliar apps in your app list

Although spyware and other viruses usually aren’t easy to detect, there are instances when they are installed like a regular app that runs on your phone. Someone may, for example, install parental control apps (which are available in app stores) on your phone to snoop on you.

It’s good practice to regularly go through your installed apps and double-check that no unknown apps are hiding between them. If you come across an app that you don’t recognize or don’t know the function of, you should do a deeper dive to find out what it is. It might just be spyware.

How to check your installed apps on Android

To check for installed spy apps on Android, follow the steps below:

  1. Go to “Settings.”
  2. Tap on “Apps.”
  3. Screenshot of Android, Settings
  4. In the top right corner click on the search icon and search for “spy,” “monitor,” and uninstall any app that comes up that you didn’t install.
  5. Go through the app list and ensure there isn’t an app you didn’t install yourself.
  6. Screenshot of Android, Apps

How to check your installed apps on iPhone

To check for any installed spy apps on iPhone, follow the steps below:

  1. Go to “Settings.”
  2. Scroll down your app list and try to spot any suspicious app you didn’t install.
  3. Screenshot of iPhone app list

7. Battery draining fast

There are two reasons why your phone’s battery life might be deteriorating quickly: either the battery is old and malfunctioning, or your phone is using a lot of resources that require a lot of energy. In the latter case, this could be down to a legitimate app consuming too many resources or something more sinister, like spyware.

To figure out the exact cause, you can try swapping the battery for a new one. You can either do this yourself (if your battery is removable) or take it to the appropriate technician.

If changing the battery hasn’t improved battery life, and you can’t find any apps that might be the cause of the drain, it’s time you consider that someone is spying on your phone. This could be due to spyware executing different tasks on your phone.

8. Taking a long time to shut down

Before your phone shuts down, all running programs must close down first. This becomes a problem when spyware is running in the background and constantly transmitting your data to a third-party server. Hence, if your phone is taking longer than usual to shut down, it might be infected with spyware.

9. Weird sounds during phone calls

Thanks to the portrayal of phone tapping in movies (The Matrix, anyone?) hearing weird sounds during calls is perhaps the most well-known indicator that your phone is being monitored. It isn’t far from the truth, either. Spyware can be used to eavesdrop on your phone calls, and it frequently makes strange sounds like beeps and flashing noises while doing so.

With that in mind, don’t dismiss unexpected and unusual sounds made during phone calls. They could indicate that something else is going on under the hood. First, make sure it’s not a bad signal. If it isn’t, it’s time to investigate. Do you experience more warning signs named in this list? You might be dealing with spyware.

10. Signs of activity in standby mode

If your phone is infected, it means the spyware is always running in the background. This may lead to your phone lighting up or making unusual noises even when on standby. When this happens and it’s not due to a notification, call, text message, or any other activity you’re used to, you should check to see if there are legitimate apps that are malfunctioning or try restarting your phone. Otherwise, something could be up.


Common Spy Apps for Android and iPhone

Believe it or not, there are many spy apps available today specifically designed for users to spy on others. Some of these apps might be aimed at parents to monitor their kids and keep them safe only, but many are also marketed to spouses to spy on their presumably cheating partner. Below, we discuss some popular spy apps you should watch out for.

NOTE: We strongly advise against using any of these apps to spy on someone since cyberstalking is highly illegal and a serious invasion of privacy.

  1. mSpy: An undetectable spying app for iOS devices. It can be used to read your chats, see your location, view your email, check your call history, record your keystrokes, and more.
  2. Spyera: This app requires rooted and jail-broken iPhones to work. It can go undetected and monitors phone calls and your call history. It even allows call recording and eavesdropping of live calls.
  3. Flexispy: Flexispy prides itself as the #1 phone monitor for parents and can monitor everything from calls to social texts.
  4. Umobix: This powerful spyware app has a dashboard that allows users to easily monitor someone’s location, calls, texts, keystrokes, all major social media, and more. You can detect Umobix because it heats up the infected phone and greatly affects the battery life of the infected device.
  5. Ikey Monitor: Although it requires the device to be rooted for Android or jailbroken for iPhones, this spy app captures keystrokes, passwords, and screenshots, allows for call recording, and supports multiple languages.
  6. Clevguard: Available for both iOS and Android, Clevguard allows users to track GPS and Wi-Fi locations, capture screenshots remotely, and more. Due to a recent update, the spy app drains the target phone’s battery significantly.

These are just a few of the spyware and monitoring apps on the market today. There are more advanced ones that have extra features and are harder to detect.


How to Remove Spyware From Your Phone

If you suspect someone is spying on you through your smartphone, the first thing you’ll want to do is get rid of any spyware. There are different ways you can do this, and we’ll discuss the three most effective ones down below.

1. Remove the spyware from your app list

Some spyware programs show up in your app list and are easy to deinstall. Apps intended for parents to monitor their kids, for example, may be used by a spouse or jealous ex-partner to spy on you. If you can find a specific app on your iPhone or Android device that is spying on you, you might be able to get rid of it by simply deleting it:

  1. Press and hold the icon of the app you would like to uninstall.
  2. Screenshot of iPhone, Information and reading
  3. From the list of options, tap “Delete App” (iPhone) or “Uninstall” (Android).
  4. Screenshot of iPhone deleting app
  5. Confirm you’d like to remove the app by tapping “Delete” (iPhone) or “OK” (Android).
  6. Screenshot of iPhone Confirm deletion of app

Note: There’s nothing wrong with the app Photo CutOut. We installed it ourselves and have used it in these screenshots purely for the sake of showing you how to delete an app.

2. Use a good antivirus program for smartphone

In the end, it’s notoriously difficult to catch modern spyware by searching it on your phone or by perusing your app list. This is because they hide so well and are “out of sight” for the average user.

That’s why we recommend good antivirus software specifically for iPhone and Android phones. It will thoroughly scan your phone for any stalkerware or spyware apps and delete them. Simply get a good provider, click “scan” after downloading its software, and the program will do the rest for you.

A good antivirus such as Norton 360 will also protect your phone from being infected with a spy app in the first place. Check out Norton’s offer for mobile by clicking the button below.

Remove Spyware with Norton 360

3. Do a full phone reset

If all else fails, you can reset your phone and restore it to its factory settings. While this is a very extreme solution, it often helps remove spyware that can’t be deleted in any other way.

A full reset will make the software revert back to the way it was when you bought it. In practice, this wipes all third-party apps and personal files from your phone. That’s why it’s essential to make backups of your important files, such as contacts, photos, documents, messages, and music, before resetting your phone. Here are guides that can help you back up your smartphone files:

NOTE: In cases of very aggressive spyware, even a full phone reset might not be sufficient. If this is the case for you, we recommend contacting a professional to see if they can salvage your device.

How to factory reset an Android phone

The following steps have been tested on Android 11. If you’re using a different version, the steps may vary slightly.

  1. Go to “Settings.”
  2. Click on “General Management.”
  3. Screenshot of Android, Settings
  4. Tap “Reset,” then “Factory data reset.”
  5. Screenshot of Android, Reset settings
  6. You’ll be shown a warning containing a list of everything that will be deleted.
  7. Screenshot of Android, Confirm reset window
  8. Scroll to the bottom and click on “Reset.” Enter your password or pattern to confirm.
  9. Screenshot of Android, Confirm reset to factory settings

Your Android phone will now reset itself. This might take a while.

How to factory reset an iPhone

The following steps have been tested on iPhone version 15.5. If you’re using a different version, the steps may vary slightly.

  1. Go to “Settings” and tap on “General.”
  2. Screenshot of iPhone, Settings
  3. At the bottom, tap on “Transfer or Reset iPhone.”
  4. Screenshot of iPhone, General
  5. Select “Reset All Settings.”
  6. Screenshot of iPhone, Reset all settings
  7. Enter your passcode to confirm the reset.
  8. Screenshot of iPhone, Enter passcode

Your iPhone will now start its factory reset. Wait until the process is finished, then set up your phone as if it were new.


How to Prevent Spyware and Phone Tracking

Getting rid of mobile spyware can result in a lot of frustration and headaches. The best course of action is to prevent it from infecting your phone in the first place. Luckily, there are some easy tips and tricks to prevent phone tracking. Let’s take a closer look at them.

7 tips to prevent spyware and tracking, with illustrations

1. Use antivirus software

Modern-day spy software and monitoring apps are notorious for being undetectable. Malware creators try different tactics every time and are constantly innovating. The best way to stay up-to-date and protect yourself against all kinds of malware is by using a proven antivirus with a strong firewall. This firewall will scan any programs and files trying to sneak onto your device. This way, you can stop spying software at the door, before it gets access to your smartphone.

Looking for a trustworthy antivirus solution? Norton 360 offers real-time protection for your device that constantly protects your phone from malware. At the same time, it’s equipped with effective features to root out any lingering spyware.

Get Norton 360

Most of the time, spyware is spread through dubious links. Captions such as “you’ve won,” “click the link to claim your free iPhone,” and other too-good-to-be-true offers are often used to get you to click the link.

Whether you come across one through an email, via a website, or in a text message, doesn’t matter. The result of these phishing attempts is the same: spyware or some other kind of malicious program is automatically downloaded onto your device. This is exactly what happens with one of the most notorious pieces of smartphone spyware today, known as Pegasus.

The best way to ward yourself against this? Simply don’t click on such links. Make sure you know exactly where a link is taking you before engaging with it.

3. Download apps from official app stores

Always stick with official app stores such as Google Play Store or Apple App Store. These platforms do their best to make sure all apps are safe to download.

The Google Play Store, for example, has Google Play Protect. Enabled by default, Play Protect checks your downloads for potentially harmful applications (PHAs). To check whether this option is activated on your account, open the Google Play Store, click the menu, then choose “Play Protect.”

Third-party app stores often don’t keep track of the apps uploaded to their platform. As a result, downloads from those stores have a higher chance of being infected with spyware.

4. Manage app permissions

Be strict with the permissions you grant to apps. Permissions such as access to location, photos, or microphone should be closely scrutinized. Also, limit permissions to apps you don’t use often. This offers an extra layer of protection that ensures no apps are recording your information in the background.

Restrict app permissions on Android

To check and restrict permissions granted to apps on Android, follow the steps below:

  1. Go to “Settings.”
  2. Tap on “Apps.”
  3. Click on the app you’d like to restrict permissions.
  4. Tap on “Permissions.”
  5. Under “Allowed,” click on the permission(s) you’d like to restrict.
  6. Select “Don’t Allow.”

Restrict app permissions on iPhone

On iPhone, here’s how to check and restrict permissions granted to apps:

  1. Go to “Settings” and choose “Privacy.”
  2. Tap a category, such as Calendars, Reminders, or Motion & Fitness.
  3. The list shows the apps that requested access. You can turn access on or off for any app on the list.

5. Use a VPN

virtual private network (VPN) hides your IP address and encrypts your online data. This makes it almost impossible for an attacker to pinpoint your phone: it’s a needle in a haystack. Even when someone intercepts your connection when using public Wi-Fi, they can’t get to your data. This means you’re much safer from online attacks.

We recommend NordVPN, as it has an excellent app for both Android and iPhone and is easy to set up. All you’ll need to do is get a subscription and click the “Connect” button. NordVPN will do the rest and keep you safe and anonymous online.

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Please note that a VPN will not be able to protect you when someone has physical access to your phone, you click on a phishing link, or you install the wrong app. That’s why it’s important to also take note of the other tips in this list.

6. Watch your phone

There are many ways in which you can protect your smartphone from online attacks. However, if you want to fully protect yourself against spyware, you also need to be wary of real-life dangers. It’s all too easy for someone to grab your phone when you aren’t paying attention to it.

Anyone with ill will and access to your devices might be able to read your messages on WhatsApp, look through financial data on your banking app, or install a monitoring app to spy on you in the future.

To prevent this, make sure people you don’t know or trust can’t access your phone. You can do this by using a passcode that you don’t share with others, using facial or fingerprint recognition, and simply by keeping an eye on your device at all times.

7. Don’t jailbreak your phone

iPhones are designed to be very secure thanks to their sandbox architecture. Each app operates in “its own space,” meaning one app can’t affect another. This is also the case for spying apps. However, once you jailbreak your iPhone, you lose this top-notch security system. In other words: jailbreaking opens the door for malicious apps to take root.

Some people want to jailbreak, or root, their phone to make it more customizable. A jailbroken iPhone allows users to change the operating system and unlock otherwise unavailable features. Even so, we recommend against doing this, as it lowers the phone’s security.

Although Android phones don’t work with the same sandbox security as iPhones, the same applies here. Android phones offer much better security when they haven’t been rooted.


Avoid Spying Apps on Mobile and Stay Safe

Worried that someone might be spying on you through your smartphone? Unfortunately, spyware and stalkerware are quite popular among cybercriminals. Some even willingly download it on their partners’ phones to keep track of them!

If your phone displays any of the following signs, it might mean your calls, chats, and app usage aren’t as private as you’d like:

  1. Random reboots
  2. Slow performance
  3. Strange text messages
  4. Overheating
  5. Unusually high data usage
  6. Unfamiliar apps in your app list
  7. Battery draining fast
  8. Taking long to shut down
  9. Weird sounds during phone calls
  10. Signs of activity in standby mode

Some of these signs could also be an indication that your phone is simply getting old or has too little storage available. If you find many of the above signs apply to you, however, it’s time to make sure you’re not being targeted by mobile spyware.

Delete any unfamiliar apps from your phone and use a good antivirus program, like Norton 360, to protect you. Still having problems? Then you might need to do a full factory reset of your phone.

If you’re curious about spying software and what it can do, whether on your phone, your PC, or one of your other devices, have a look at our full article on spyware.

How to Tell If Your Phone Is Being Monitored: Frequently Asked Questions

Didn’t find what you were looking for in the article? Here are the most common questions about mobile spyware.

To stop your phone from being tracked by others, you need to get rid of the tracker they placed on your device. Here’s how to do that:

  • Delete any suspicious apps you don’t remember installing.
  • Get a good antivirus program that can delete malware.
  • Don’t leave your phone unattended.

For more tips and information on how you can tell if your phone is being tracked, read our full article “How to Tell if Your Phone Is Being Monitored.”

If you type in *#21# on an iPhone, it will tell you whether call forwarding is enabled. If it is, any calls to the number will be forwarded to a different number. Recently, a TikTok claimed that calling *#21# will tell you whether or not your phone is being tapped. This is, however, false. Call forwarding settings don’t have anything to do with spyware or phone tracking.

Yes, there are signs that will tell you when your phone is being monitored. These signs include overheating of your device, the battery draining fast, receiving odd text messages, hearing weird sounds during calls, and random reboots of your phone. If your phone is behaving strangely, it’s time to investigate further and get rid of any possible spyware.

Tech journalist
Ian is an enthusiastic content writer who loves researching and writing about cybersecurity, internet privacy and online freedom. He's a marketer and cybersecurity enthusiast who aims to educate others through his writing. During his downtime, he enjoys going on nature walks and baking sourdough bread.