The rise of privately used spyware in 2020
How do I know if my partner is spying on my phone?
When we think of a hacker, we will almost certainly imagine a stranger. We might imagine someone far away, living a very different life to ourselves, and will assume that this person is highly skilled in using technology.
It might be surprising then to hear that you are actually far more likely to be spied on by someone you know, for example, your partner, even if they are completely incapable when it comes to technology. The modern availability of the tools required to hack a person’s device has made it as simple as a few taps on a screen and as cheap as £25.
“Demand for spyware detection software has increased by 46% in the last few months”
In the lockdown between March and June of this year there was a 51% increase in the use of spying and stalking apps globally, compared to January and February of 2020. This rise comes on top of a previous 50% increase in cyber-attacks targeting smartphones and other mobile devices in 2019.
So, how can you tell if you’ve been hacked by your partner? And what do you do if you find you have, in fact, been hacked?
The signs/symptoms that your phone is being spied on
It’s important to know what to look for if you suspect your phone is being hacked. Any one of these factors alone can be completely innocent, but if you’re experiencing numerous signs, it’s definitely worth looking further into it.
- Your phone feels sluggish. Hacking software (commonly called ‘Spyware’) can be very resource intensive on your device. If someone has installed spyware then a good sign of this is that you might find your phone is running a little slower than usual.
- The battery is draining too fast. Similar to the previous point – installed spyware on your device will also run the battery down much quicker than before. However, it is worth noting that as our devices age, battery life naturally decreases. Look for more sudden changes.
- High data usage. Installed spyware on your device can be responsible for huge amounts of data usage. This is because it is typically sending a lot of information to the hacker via the internet connection.
- Suspicious activity. Suspicious activity on your device (such as strange text messages, emails or even interference during phone calls) can be obvious signs that something is awry.
There can be more symptoms other than these listed here, especially if you’re using an Android device, including background noise or electronic interference, unwanted ads and apps, or if Google Play Protect has been disabled.
The methods your partner could be using to spy on your phone and how to fix it
As we’ve already mentioned, spyware is essentially software (or an app) that can be installed onto a device such as a computer, phone or tablet. It is designed to retrieve data from the device and send it to the hacker, usually going completely unseen.
Nowadays, spyware can cost as little as £25, and will be able to collect a huge amount of data such as text and chat messages, phone calls, internet browsing history, passwords, and more.
Of all the methods of spying on this list, this requires the most technological knowledge, but is still extremely easy to use – with one caveat – Spyware usually requires the hacker to gain physical access to the device, meaning your partner would need to know your device passcode.
To detect and remove this type of hack, you can use a spyware detection tool or app. These security tools will allow you to scan your device for evidence of hacking and help you to remove any spyware found.
Slightly different to spyware, tracking apps are legitimate apps installed through the official app stores. They are often presented as apps for parents to help monitor their children or other family member’s location and activity.
The problem is that these apps are often abused by people trying to spy on their partners without their knowledge. Because these apps are so readily available, there is no special technical knowledge required to install them – it’s just the same as any other app. They can also be hidden away in subfolders so there’s less chance the device owner will discover them.
Luckily, it’s very easy to remove this type of hack. It’s as simple as uninstalling any other app on your phone.
Pre-existing apps and services
A free and easy alternative to paying for spyware and tracking apps is to use the apps already installed on the victim’s phone. Some of these apps can very easily be manipulated to the hacker’s benefit by changing minor settings that are often overlooked by the user. Three example scenarios using such apps are:
- Google Maps or Apple’s “Find My iPhone”. Someone gets hold of their partner’s device and turns on the location sharing option within either of these apps. Once activated, they can then track their partner’s location remotely, using their own device. To check if you’re affected, simply open the app and check if location sharing is turned on. This is different for each app but can be easily turned off.
- Google Chrome. Someone changes the logged-in account from their partner’s account to their own. This allows them to collect all the data from the browser such as websites visited, account passwords, card details and much more. From within Chrome, you can check which account is logged in by tapping Menu > Settings. Make sure that the correct account is being used (make sure it’s not an account created to look similar for example: “firstname.lastname@example.org” instead of “email@example.com”).
- iCloud/Google account data. If a partner knows your login details then they can easily access the data that you’re backing up to the cloud. They may even be able to use this data to create a ‘clone’ of your device and gain access to a huge amount of your private information. It’s harder to know if you’re affected with this method of hacking, however the best way to protect yourself is to enable the Two-factor authentication feature on your account. This means that even if your partner knows your login information they can’t gain access to your account without a special access code sent to you in a text message.
How to keep your device protected moving forward
There are a few best practices to ensure that you stay protected into the future, once you have eliminated any current threats to your privacy.
- Always keep your phone updated. Phone manufacturers regularly release updates to ensure that users are protected against new hacking methods. It’s always recommended to update as soon as convenient so that your device is fully protected.
- Don’t use the same accounts as your partner. It’s not unusual for partners to share accounts, but if you’re worried that this trust is being abused then we recommend using separate accounts so that your important data isn’t shared and easily accessed by the other.
- Use a strong passcode for your device. The best way to protect your phone is to use a passcode that isn’t easily guessed and that only you know. This will reduce a lot of opportunity for partner hacking, especially with those who are less technically minded. Don’t just use the 4-digits either, use as many as possible for your device.
- Reboot your device regularly. As simple as this seems, lots of hacking software relies on the phone being left switched on for long periods of time. This is easily done if you regularly charge your phone or if it rarely runs down over the course of your day. Simply restarting your phone regularly can make a difference.
- Consider carefully before you delete any apps you don’t recognize. Any apps you don’t recognise might be spying on you. If you feel safe to do so, delete all of the apps that you didn’t install yourself. Be aware however, that most phones will have apps that are pre-installed by the manufacturer and these, in most cases, cannot be removed. If you’re not sure, try Googling the app name. Remember that if you delete the app the person spying on you will be notified that you have removed it. If you think that this could pose a threat to your safety form a plan with a trusted friend or family member, or independent organisation to help you.
Article By Russell Kent Payne – Co-Founder and Director of Certo Software Ltd