WHETHER IT’S A prying boss or a paranoid partner, no one should snoop on your phone or laptop. But that’s exactly what can happen if Stalkerware somehow gets installed on your devices. These software tools are designed to be hidden and difficult to detect, but you can find them if you know how to.
Dealing with software planted on company-owned devices by your employer is a little different than someone you know personally trying to spy on you. The company you work for may have what it sees as valid reasons to keep tabs on how productive you are, especially if it provides the hardware and software you use every day.
Regardless of whether that kind of monitoring is justified, at the very least your bosses should be telling you they’re watching rather than keeping it a secret from you. Plus, with company-owned phones and laptops, it’s always safer to assume you are being monitored.
This article focuses on software designed to be hidden in the background for the purposes of monitoring your online activities from your mobile devices — but remember there are plenty of legitimate parental control apps and built-in tracking tools (like Apple’s Find My) that can be used by people in your family or by people who set up your devices. The difference is that it should be obvious if these types of apps are running, but you should still be aware of them and how they can be used.
How to Check Your Phone for Stalkerware
Unless your iPhone is jailbroken (unlocked so that any apps can be installed), it’s virtually impossible to install Stalkerware on an iPhone, especially if your iOS is up to date with the latest firewall and security bug fixes installed: Apple’s locked-down approach to apps and app security isn’t always user-friendly, but it’s very effective at keeping you safe. iOS simply doesn’t let apps get deep enough into the system software to be able to secretly monitor what you’re doing on your phone.
If you do find yourself with a jailbroken iPhone, a full factory reset should fix it (and wipe everything else, so make sure your important stuff is backed up somewhere). This is best done through a connected Mac or Windows computer, and Apple has a full guide to the process that you can work through here.
Getting sneaky surveillance apps onto Android devices is somewhat easier, though officially speaking they’re not allowed: Google will remove apps from the Play Store if it finds evidence of Stalkerware-like behaviour. Apps do slip through the net, but someone will need to access your phone (or have to have set up your phone initially) to install one. That’s actually one of the most telling warning signs to look out for: If you set up your own Android phone and no one else has ever had it for more than a few seconds, it should be Stalkerware free.
Signs of Stalkerware In Your Mobile Devices
- Battery draining faster than usual/phone getting too hot
These usually happen when there’re background apps running without your knowledge.
- Shutting down/Restarting your mobile devices automatically
Although we cannot determine Stalkerware is on your device solely based on this, it is usually a strong indicator that your phone is being compromised.
- Unusual behaviour from your devices
We’re talking about weird notifications that disappear or notifications that doesn’t redirect you as expected. This might be an attempt to hide the true purpose of the notification from the Stalkerware app.
Monitoring apps will very often hide their app icons but they might show up in the main apps list, albeit under an innocuous, alternative name: From Settings on Android, tap Apps and notifications then See all apps to check. Stalkerware can also be tucked away in the actual Settings menu in Android (often in sections related to security)—look for menu items that don’t look right, or that you haven’t noticed before, or that don’t match the official documentation.
For extra peace of mind, you can enlist the help of third-party phone-scanning apps that should tell you if you have anything to worry about. It’s encouraging to note that the issue of secret surveillance apps is now more high profile than ever, and both Google and Apple take a very dim view of any app that attempts anything of the sort.
On their face, spying apps might seem like something out of a thriller, of concern to high-rolling politicians, prominent business people, and celebrities, not regular folks. In reality, though, you don’t have to be Jeff Bezos for someone to want to track you. It could be that your employer (or other half) wants to know what you’re getting up to outside the office (or home).
If you suspect that someone might be spying on you through your smartphone — or even if you don’t — use these tips to investigate, or contact a trusted Private Investigations Agency such as Asia Top Investigation to conduct digital forensics on your suspected devices.
How to avoid surveillance
If one of the above methods unearths spyware on your smartphone, think twice before deleting it. The person who installed it will notice, and that could make things worse. (Uninstalling the program also could erase evidence that you might need later.)
As with all facets of security, take protective measures first. For example, if you’re being tracked by a potentially violent partner, before doing anything with the spy app, contact a help centre for victims of domestic abuse.
In some cases, it’s easier to replace your smartphone altogether, and then make sure that no one can install spying apps on the new device:
– Protect it with a strong password that you never share with your partner, friends, or colleagues;
– Install a reliable security solution immediately, and scan the device regularly;
– Change the passwords for all of your accounts, and don’t share them with anyone either;
– Download apps only from official sources such as Google Play or the App Store.
* The following article is written from Asia Top Investigation’s perspective and should not be taken as legal advice. Asia Top Investigation advises you to consult your legal advisor for a more accurate consultation.
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