How To Remove Spyware from Your Smartphone

Let's talk about our smartphones:

We love 'em, we use 'em every day, we store loads of important data in 'em.

Our most private photos, our emails, bank statements, messages, every password to every site, our search history... All in one single device.

Now, imagine if someone were to spy on it.

(Insert a shudder emoji here)

Not to create paranoia, but know there are spy apps for smartphones out there.

If you value your privacy, here are the telltales of a spying app presence on your phone, and how to get rid of it.

What Is a Spying App

Yes, iOS and Android spy apps do exist.

What they do is infiltrate your phone without you knowing, and get access to:

  • Incoming and outgoing messages on WhatsApp, Facebook Messanger, Line, or any other chatting app you have installed.
  • Incoming and outgoing phone calls.
  • All of the files you have in your phone memory.
  • GPS locations.
  • Browser history.

Although this may sound harrowing to you, there are signs to know that you're being spied. 

someone looking at their phone

How to Know if You Have Spyware on Your Phone

Smartphones are magical beasts, but more often than not, we can control it.

So, if it behaves without your control, or in a different pattern than before, you may have a spy app.

But, since paranoia is not a good color on anyone, make sure you notice more than one of these signs before moving on to the riddance process.

1. Weird Incoming Messages

Check your SMSes and messages from apps.

Some spying apps use messages to interact with their owners.

A sure sign that these messages are from the spyware is that they do not make sense, or are written in jumbled characters. 

2. Battery drains for no reason

Most of the time, people think this is a sign that the battery is old and needs a change. And most of the time, this is the case.

But what if your phone is relatively new? What if you're not running any power-hungry app?

This could be a sign that there's an app running in the background that's using all the power: a spy app.

3. Shuts down or restarts without you doing anything

Same as above, some people think this is nothing.

But actually, this is one of the signs that you have an unwanted guest on your phone.

See if this happens in recurrence or a one-off.

A one-off might be nothing, a pattern may be a cue to worry.

4. Background noises

As spying app intercepts your calls, you may hear weird noises in the background.

This can mean that you have a bad reception, of course.

But if you have full bars and/or moving around doesn't fix it, it's a sign someone is listening to your calls via an app.

5. Weird Files on Phone File System

Not everybody is comfortable doing this.

Because it means accessing the files you shouldn't be touching for your phone to work okay.

But if you don't change anything in it, you should be fine.

Go to Settings - Applications - Manage Applications or Running Services. Then, check for suspicious files.

Good spying apps hide their files by naming them something safe. But many contain the word Spy, Stealth or Monitor in their names.

a smatphone on the table

How to Remove Spyware from Your Phone

Before you ask:

No, you cannot find these apps on your list of apps and uninstall them from there.

These are spy apps, so they won't hang out casually for you to find them out in the open. Especially the good ones.

Fortunately, there are things you can do.

1. Restart in Safe/Recovery Mode

Restarting your phone in safe mode (Android) or recovery mode (iOS) ensures that your phone is on with only the apps it was shipped with.

(The instruction to do this on an Android device varies from one phone to another. Make sure you read your user's manual.)

Now, check if you can find an app that seems suspicious and delete it from there.

With non-advanced spying apps, this has a chance of working. But if not, try another method below.

2. Update Your Operating System

Many spying apps will be gone with an updated operating system.

This is also one of the reasons your smartphone manufacturer advises you to update it regularly.

If it's not done automatically, you can still do it manually. Here's how you can update your Android and your iOS.

3. Restore to Factory Settings

This may seem radical but it's still a better option than buying a new device.

Before you click on this option, know that all of your data will be wiped clean (including your passwords). So, create a back up in another hard drive or a cloud service.

However, DO NOT do backups for your applications - especially if you have no idea which one is the spy. 

After that, follow the instructions from your Settings.

4. Control the Damage

Now that you've tried one or all of these, check if the symptoms persist. If not, it's time to do damage control.

Change your passwords for everything, call your bank to make sure there's no data breach, change your phone lock code, and so on.

The goal is to make all of the stolen information obsolete, hence, unusable by the hacker.

vintage phone and smartphone on a table

How to Avoid Spyware

Avoiding the infiltration of a spying app is easy, and you may have done these already.

Lock Your Phone

Yep, many people still don't lock their phones. However, this has been proven effective against hacking.

According to statistics, PIN codes work better than screen lock pattern in deterring hacking attempts.

It takes seconds to do this but can save you a lot of hassle.

Turn Off Bluetooth

This is how some spying apps get in your phone. Whenever you don't need it, turn off your Bluetooth.

The bonus point is that you save battery.

Be Careful with Public Wi-Fi

Ah... the can't-live-without public Wi-Fi.

Although practical, public Wi-Fi has many risks, including the infiltration of spying apps.

This does not mean that you must never use public-Fi, though. Just be careful, and follow this next advice.

Install a VPN on Your Phone

What, you still don't have a VPN on your phone?

VPN has many advantages, and one of the most important ones is to avoid spying from your ISP, or any other people.

Also, it makes your surfing sessions on public Wi-Fi safe and secure.

This will help a great deal in blocking unwanted spies and/or viruses.

We suggest you install a VPN on your phone as a preventive measure, or even for damage control. The idea is to (re)start clean with a protected device.

Not sure which VPN to get? We've compiled our top picks here.

Take-Away Message

Many people don't know there is spyware for phones out there.

But you should not worry too much about it to the point of being paranoid.

Just enjoy the great things about your phones.

But now that you know, you can start noticing if your phone is acting weird and will know what's up.

Most of the time, simple safety precautions (like locking your phone) can help keeping your phone safe.

Serina Rajagukguk

Serina is a writer whose passion includes learning all about new technology and trying to explain it in a layman term. 

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