The reason for this guide
We have created the "How To Tell If Your Phone Is Tapped" guide because we're living in a world where we constantly hear about government surveillance and hackers stealing sensitive information and resources. Maybe you also worry about someone spying on your phone.
UPDATE: We have posted the 2017 updated guide for how to tell if your phone is tapped. Please read the new information.
Unfortunately, this state of affairs is likely to stick for a while.
Some people don’t give a lot of thought to this, though. “Why would anyone want to spy on the cat photos that I post on Facebook?” asks the regular person.
But what if you use the same password for posting cat pictures on Facebook and on your bank account? What if your company needs an excuse to fire you? What if a crazy person is stalking you?
Like with most security, it’s not needed 99% of the time. But when it’s needed, it’s REALLY needed.
That’s why we would like to share some tips that would help you tell if your phone is tapped.
Who can possibly tap your cell phone?
A lot of parties could be interested in your private information.
Governments and advertising companies like Google and Facebook are accumulating private information on all citizens, with Facebook even being recently documented as listening to your phone’s environment (i.e. to you talking) through the cell phone’s mic.
However, measures against government surveillance are beyond the scope of this guide and we will cover anti-advertising tactics in another guide.
We do discuss the cases when your phone might be tapped by:
- A romantic or a former romantic partner
- Your boss or a colleague from your workplace
- A private detective, possibly employed by someone from 1. or 2.
What information can they get from tapping your cell phone?
If someone tapped your cell phone, they could have access to your texts, WhatsApp chats, recording of your calls and know your physical location at all times.
They could all see the photos and videos that you took with your mobile and even activate the camera at will and see what the camera is seeing at the moment.
They could activate the mic and listen to what’s going on around the phone, i.e. your real world private conversations.
If this is alright with you, you probably shouldn’t read further…
But how could they possible access all that data?
Some services pretend to let people “spy on their friends’ text messages” but they are just unsophisticated scams.
However, some actually working commercial spyware products and services are available to any consumer with a working credit card.
To make a long story short, if these applications are installed on your phone, they operate completely silently, record all the information and store it on some private server, where the spy can access it at their convenience.
As soon as you send a text, for example, the cell phone spy app intercepts it, sends a copy to a server and when the spy logins to their user dashboard they would see all your texts.
The essential point is that these spy apps can only be installed physically on your phone, i.e. the spy should gain access to your device for a few minutes.
To grab the most data from your phone, these apps are installed on a rooted Android phone or a jailbroken iPhone.
The iPhone Exception
If you use an iPhone, however, they can even get away without installing anything on your device.
It’s enough for them to feed your iCloud username and password to a commercial product called mSpy.
If the password if correct mSpy will pull all your private information from the iCloud and feed it straight to the spy’s dashboard.
Unfortunately, a lot of apps like Skype and WhatsApp store backups of the chat history on the iCloud and that’s how the spy software can access it without installing anything on your iPhone.
If you suspect that the data from your iCloud backups is used to tap your phone, change your iCloud password immediately to a very strong password that you've never used before.
How To Tell If Your Phone Is Tapped?
We’ve seen what kind of information a spy can obtain by tapping your phone and how they can theoretically do it with installing a cell phone spy app or by knowing your iCloud password (if you use iPhone).
Let’s go over the signs that reveal whether your phone is tapped.
Battery usage and temperature
Look at your battery usage statistics in Settings->Battery.
See if the apps that use battery the most are familiar to you. Do you see any strange app there? Some cell phone spy apps tend to drain the battery quickly, because they’re constantly “talking to the mothership”. Make sure that all the apps that use up your battery are legitimate and have been installed by you.
Also, keep an eye for unusual battery behavior. If the battery usually carries your phone for the whole day and suddenly it’s only good for 5-6 hours, it might be a telltale sign for some dodgy app messing with your phone.
Of course it could also be that the battery is just getting old, so you have to look for really sudden and unexpected changes.
The last battery issue worth paying attention to is sudden overheating. If your phone suddenly starts to become extremely hot in the battery area, again it points to a possible spy app infection.
Weird phone behavior
Do your notification lights suddenly light up and then turn off? Does your cell phone beep for no reason? Does your phone restart without you doing anything?
All these things might be a symptom of a spy app running in the background and interfering with the normal operation of your mobile phone.
Unusual text messages
The cell phone spy apps use coded text messages for controlling their behavior.The text message might look something like “#37*49XX#22” or some other gibberish. If you see a message or multiple messages like that, it is highly probable that something funky is going on.
If you hear clicks in the background or some unusual, unnatural background noise it might be a sign that your conversations are being recorded by the app.
Pay attention to strange sounds and clicks on the line.
Unstable data usage
The cell phone spy apps sometimes use your mobile data plan to send your data to their server.
If you usually use 2GB in a month but suddenly receive a notification from your mobile provider that your data plan has run out on the 10th of the month, it could mean that your data usage has dramatically increased and a spy app is at fault.
Check if your Android phone is rooted or if your iPhone is jailbroken
Make sure that your phone is not rooted or jailbroken, unless you’ve done it yourself.
Cell phone spy apps need to operate on a rooted Android or a jailbroken iPhone to use most of their abilities.
For Android: download Simple Root Checker from the Google Play Store and run it.
For iPhone: in Spotlight search look for an app called 'Cydia'. If it pops up, it usually means that your iPhone is jailbroken.
What To Do If You Suspect That Your Cell Phone Is Tapped
Maybe you went over the previous section and got some indications that your phone might be tapped.
What can you do about it?
Change your iCloud Password
If you use an iPhone, change your iCloud password immediately to a password that you’ve never used before.
It should be secure and difficult to guess. You can follow a guide to create a very strong password.
Change your GMail Password
If you use an Android, change the password of the gmail account associated with your phone to a password that you’ve never used before.
This way, your location cannot be tracked via Android Device Manager.
Remove jailbreak from your iPhone
If you’ve discovered that your iPhone was jailbroken, simply update it to the latest iOS version. This will remove the jailbreak from the device
Scan your cell phone with an anti-malware app
Now scan your phone with a good anti-malware app. We recommend Lookout (free edition is enough) for both Android and iOS phones.
Lookout is one of the best malware and anti-spy scanners for your cell phone, but you can also use Malwarebytes or Avast - all of them will alert you about possible dangerous apps running on your cell phone.
However, when your Android phone is rooted, a spy app might successfully hide from these anti-malware scanners.
That’s why we recommend to scan with Lookout only after you have unrooted your cell phone.
Use your anti-malware app to remove all spy apps from your device
If Lookout has detected any malware/spy app, follow its instructions to remove all the malware and spyware from your phone.
Secure your phone
Now that your phone is cleaned by Lookout, set a safe lock screen password and configure Lookout to perform periodic security scans on the phone.
Make sure nobody except you installs anything on the phone and avoid sideloading apps, especially ones that you’re not sure about.
Did this guide help you find out how to tell if your phone is tapped? If something is missing, leave us a comment and we will help you out ASAP.
We hope that you stay secure out there and nobody taps your phone ever again.
Leave us a comment if you have any questions!