Tech Matters: How to detect and get rid of mobile spyware

Wednesday , March 01, 2017 - 5:30 AM

LESLIE MEREDITH, Tech Matters columnist

Just like with your computer, spyware is available for smartphones.

Once installed, it can send location data, copies of your texts and incoming and outgoing phone numbers to a designated person. Some can listen and record your calls.

If you are concerned about spyware on your phone, here are ways to check for it and get rid of it.

Before we get started, understand that this is a serious issue and one that can be a symptom of other, possibly dangerous, problems. Please seek help if you feel threatened.

And if you are considering installing spyware on someone else’s phone — don’t. As an alternative you should consider one of the many parental monitoring apps available, which can be useful in certain family situations. Do talk this over with your kids and make sure they understand you are concerned about their safety.

To detect the possibility of the presence of spyware, pay attention to any sudden changes in your phone.

Are you hearing unusual background noise? This can happen with programs that act like a conference call, bringing the listener in without your consent.

Have you started to receive odd text messages consisting of just numbers and symbols? This may be caused by a bug in the spyware. If it was working properly, you would not see these messages.

Does your phone suddenly light up as if it’s in use or shutdown on its own?

And finally, take a look at the bill from your service provider. Has your data usage suddenly spiked for no apparent reason?

To install spyware on an iPhone, the device must be jailbroken, which means using an app to “break” Apple’s restrictions around third party apps and change your phone’s interface in other ways.

Once done, the iPhone is no longer covered by Apple. The phone’s owner would no longer be able to update the phone “over the air,” rather it would have to be plugged into your computer and updated through iTunes, which overwrites the jailbreak.

Because of the jailbreaking requirement for iPhones, the easiest thing to do with a suspicious phone is to restore it to its factory settings. Go to “Settings” and then select “General” to access “Reset.”

Android users are at higher risk for spyware because there are no restrictions on what apps can and can’t be downloaded to these phones. In fact, spyware can be embedded in seemingly innocuous apps that you might download yourself.

To protect yourself, only download well-known apps that you trust.

If you suspect spyware or other malware on your Android phone, you should immediately run an anti-malware program such as Malwarebytes Mobile. The name should be familiar to you if you read this column regularly. I recommend it for computers infections, and I can tell you it has saved both my desktop and laptop several times. Download it for your Android phone and run it to find and remove the spyware.

The best way to protect your phone is to keep it protected, preferably with fingerprint recognition, which is found on most modern smartphones, including iPhones from the 5s onward and Samsung Galaxy 5 and newer models, along with many others.

Older phones should be password protected. The password should not reflect guessable numbers, such as the last four digits of your social security number, your birthday or your address. Because these codes are short, change your password more frequently than you would for sensitive accounts that can take longer and more varied passwords.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past eight years. She has designed and manages several international websites and now runs the marketing for a global events company. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at

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