There are symptoms that indicate that your phone has been hacked, along with steps to take to both prevent and get rid of any spy apps on your smartphone. It does not matter whether you use an Android phone or an iPhone, both can be compromised and tracked. You can own one of the best smartphones in the world and still fall victim to this.
There is a booming industry around phone hacking, cloning, and spying on individuals via their mobile devices. In today’s world, spy apps exist by the bucketful and even people with no technical knowledge can instal one on your smartphone within minutes.
There are ethical issues to this practice. The first is that anyone who goes through your personal effects without your consent is violating a fundamental right of yours. This includes your phone. A smartphone is a very personal tool, with access to not just your conversations, but very often bank accounts, other financial systems, work systems, and more.
If someone sets out to hack or clone your phone, or to monitor your personal activities in other ways, there is a problem.
Even as a parent who has implemented some form of monitoring for their child out of concern for safety, there are ethics to it. Mrs. Mo and I needed to do this once. What we did was tell the children upfront that we would be monitoring their phones as part of our responsibilities as parents.
We made them fully aware that we would be able to see their location, messages, and social media activities. This was not a sneaky exercise. We are family and would not go about sneaking. We let our children know we would randomly go through the effects in their rooms too. We carried them along.
I shared that story to show you that the excuse that people who spy on you by hacking your phone or monitoring your activities through other means, without your consent or awareness, tender is invalid for the most part. There may be exceptions – cases in which tracking someone’s phone might be valid, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
What are the differences between hacking a phone and cloning a phone?
In phone hacking, someone installs a spy app to gain unauthorized access to the information and activities on your smartphone. Usually, the app is invisible/hidden, or appears to be a harmless tool or utility, but in reality transmits data to a 3rd party such that they can see your messages, your location, and in some cases even listen in on your telephone calls. All of these happen without your knowledge.
With SIM cloning, the 3rd party makes a copy of your SIM card, so they can not only monitor your messages and location, but can also initiate messages and calls on your line from their end. It is more difficult to execute. It requires more advanced technology.
As such, most cases of phone monitoring are hacks – a spy app is installed on the victim’s phone and used to track them.
Who would hack your phone to track you?
An insecure or suspicious spouse. A jealous boyfriend or girlfriend. A competitor. An enemy pretending to be a friend. An irate or envious family member – sister, brother, cousin, et al. Pretty much anyone who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Family members get access to someone’s phone and transfer money out of their account. Supposed friends do it too. It happens every day on this planet. The statistics showing large numbers of spy apps in use confirm it. Nightmarish stories from people it has happened to confirm it.
Finding out that someone has been listening in on your calls, reading your messages, and tracking your movements is a highly traumatic experience. To find out that someone has accessed your phone and transferred money out of your account is not an experience you want to have either.
These things do not have to happen to you though, if you take the right steps. You do not have to wait to find out that your phone has been hacked before acting. Prevention is better than cure.
Even the best smartphones can be hacked, though you can reduce the odds by taking security measures.
How to prevent your phone from being hacked or cloned
The first rule of privacy is to prevent unauthorized physical access. In other words, if someone can get their hands on your phone for as little as 2 to 5 minutes while you are not present, they can download and instal a spy app on it. From that point, they never have to bother checking your phone again.
Put a password on your phone to secure it. Also make sure that in the settings, you enable the screen lock to kick in immediately the display goes off. Once you have that active, it means every time you turn off the display of your phone, the lock activates and a password is required to access the phone again.
Stop using silly passwords. Your cat’s name. Your date of birth, first name, middle name, or surname are the most useless things you can use as a password or PIN. Stop being lazy about your security, privacy and peace of mind.
Stop sharing your passwords. This cannot be said too much. It may sound cute and loving and mushy, but sharing your passwords with lovers and friends is a huge security risk. There is a reason why the Police and your banker tell you not to do it. They are not being paranoid; they deal with these cases daily.
Also, if you get a call from anyone alleging to be from a bank or any other service provider, and they ask for your login details, end the call immediately. Do not give those details out.
Lastly, do not click on suspicious or unverifiable links in emails especially. This is also valid for chat messages. A simple click sometimes triggers a silent installation of a tracker or malware on your smartphone or laptop.
Don’t forget these security tips. Violate any of them, and you are placing yourself at risk.
How to tell if your phone has been hacked or cloned, or that someone is tracking your smartphone
Despite the differences in phone hacking and cloning, the symptoms are similar. Here is a checklist:
Sudden unexplained, irrational behaviour by your smartphone is a red flag. Your phone used to run smoothly and without issues, but suddenly it heats up more, or you hear quiet clicking sounds during phone calls may be pointers that your phone has been hacked or cloned. Of course, some of these symptoms could also be from a poorly designed app.
It could also be that you have been hacked if you suddenly begin to experience random apps launching and closing, you now get bad network signal during calls, or your phone now consumes more data than it used to, even though you are not doing anything different on it than you have always done.
One or more of these can be an indicator that your phone has been hacked or cloned and that someone is tracking you.
If some of your contacts are getting random text messages from you that you did not send, chances are that your line has been cloned. Sometimes, those you send messages to will get two of them. That is a red flag that cloning has happened on your line.
What to do if you suspect that your phone is being tracked or has spyware
If you suspect that your phone has been hacked, use a security app to scan your phone for malware and spy apps. Options include Avast Mobile Security, AVG, Incognito, among others. Search your phone’s app store to download and run the scan.
Don’t just use only one. Scan your smartphone with at least three different mobile security apps to increase the chance of detecting any spy apps and malware. If any is found, delete it off your phone.
Also, change your passwords. All of them that you have entered on that phone – email, social media, banking account, everything. Chances are that they could have been compromised too.
If the symptoms that your phone has been hacked persist or you are not convinced that you are still not being spied on, format or factory reset your phone to wipe it completely. A format or factory reset is one of the most effective ways to get rid of malware, though some of them have been known to survive it. Hopefully, you have backups of your most important files and can restore those after the reset.
The best way to get rid of spyware on your existing phone, if all else fails, is to buy a new phone and implement all the security protocols shared above right from the very start. Prevent unauthorized physical access, be smart with your passwords, and don’t click on suspicious links or give out your passwords.
After buying the new phone, format the old and get rid of it. A similar security risk that you should read about is SIM card cloning.
Founder of MobilityArena. Yomi’s journey in mobile started in 2001. Besides obsessing over mobile phones, he also started creating WAP sites (early mobile-friendly websites created with WML). He began writing about phones in 2004 and has been at it since then. He has owned over 200 devices, from Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems.