Stalkerware Apps On Mobiles: How To Detect & Prevent Them?
- Alex Smith
Updated on: 14/02/2023
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Are you aware of stalkerware apps? Is your phone infected by such spyware and stalkerware applications? You need to put that phone right now as someone might be spying on you through these apps! This article is all about how to detect stalkerware apps on both Android and iPhones. And after you are done detecting them using a stalkerware detection app, how you can protect your phones from such malware apps.
Table of Contents
- What Is Stalkerware?
- Red Flags Of Stalkerware Apps
- How To Detect And Protect Your Android Devices From Stalkerware?
- How To Detect And Protect Your iPhones From Stalkerware Apps?
What Is Stalkerware?
Coalition Against Stalkerware defines it as follows:
Stalkerware usually refers to the tools such as apps, software programs, and devices that permit someone to spy on other persons’ lives secretly through their mobile devices.
In 2022, a host of stalkerware applications had been removed from the Google Play Store, and a huge number of installations. Back in 2019, Google was successful in discovering as well as removing 7 stalkerware apps from the Play Store with a total of 1,30,000 installations. These apps include:
- Employee Work Spy
- Mobile Tracking
- Phone Cell Tracker
- SMS Tracker
- Spy Kids Tracker
- Spy Tracker
- Track Employees Check Work Phone Online Spy Free
Thus, it is clear that with the help of these malware apps, someone will be able to monitor everything you are doing on your phone, including all the text messages you send and receive, your geolocation or where you go and when you go, voice calls, photos, all your web searches, and even more due to the stalkerware app in your mobile. In such a case you remain unknown of these apps and their features.
In such a scenario, you can opt for penetration testing services from a certified cyber security specialist. At Pattern Drive Private Limited (PDPL), we are well known for our top-notch penetration testing services in USA and India. Check out our penetration testing services at https://www.patterndrive.com/penetration-testing.
Red Flags Of Stalkerware Apps
Is there any way you can detect and protect against these malicious stalkerware apps? Well yes! Stalkerware can be installed on your phone by anyone, even someone very close to you like your intimate partner can do so. Thus, it is necessary to know some of the warning signs that you might have the apps installed.
Here are the lists of 10 signs of stalkerware that you need to keep a close watch on -
- There is a disappearance and reappearance of a phone, laptop, or device.
- The device operating system or application is acting strangely.
- On your device, there is an unfamiliar app or process.
- You notice a change in settings or unknown apps after lending your device for an extended period to someone.
- Android devices have the "Unknown sources" setting enabled.
- The battery drains unexpectedly.
- Existence of the Cydia app (for iOS devices).
- Unauthorized active sessions on your devices.
- Passwords that are easy to guess can be used by those close to you.
- You haven't given permission to applications to use your webcam but it still does.
That being said, if you notice two or more of these red flags or warning signs, then you are required to start thinking about the ways to detect or use a stalkerware detection app as well as remove stalkerware from your phone. You can also take help from the cyber security solutions of Pattern Drive cyber security services company in India. Additionally, you can check out our other cyber security services.
How To Detect And Protect Your Android Devices From Stalkerware?
There are a couple of ways to check for stalkerware and spyware on your Android device. When you find them, you need to remove them as soon as you spot them. So, here is how you detect and protect your Android devices from Stalkerware apps.
1. Check If Your Device Is Acting Strangely Or Working Slower
Lately if you notice that your new or old Android device has started to lag or show strange behaviour, then this could be a sign that your phone has hidden apps installed in it that are working in the background. In addition to this, you might notice that your phone’s battery is draining out faster than normal or is heating up or even it is restarting or shutting down on its own. In such a situation, you must go through the list of apps on your phone. Locate any unfamiliar apps and simply remove them immediately.
2. Is The Accessibility Setting Messed Up?
It is a fact that stalkerware apps require complete access to your Android device as well as the data in it. This is the reason why you can often spot them under the “Accessibility” settings on your phone if you do not have Android encryption on. In order to find out the apps that have access to the operating system or other data it is not supposed to have, do the following:
- Go to Settings > Smart Assistance > Accessibility
- Scroll down to unveil “Downloaded Services”
If you locate any fishy services, remove them immediately as they might be stalkerware.
3. The Google Play Protect Feature Is Disabled
Google Play Store houses a number of applications and to protect the users’ phones from such malware and stalkerware applications, it has a feature called “Google Play Protect”. Apps and devices with Google Play Protect are screened for harmful behavior.
- Before you download an app from the Google Play Store, it runs a safety check.
- Your device is checked for potentially harmful apps from other sources. Malware is sometimes used to describe these harmful apps.
- Detects potentially harmful apps and warns you about them.
If this useful option is disabled, then the stalkerware apps can be easily installed on your device. Thus, you need to ensure that this feature is enabled on your device. To check this, do the following:
- Open the Google Play Store App
- Click on your Profile Icon
- Tap the Play Protect
If there is a red shield, this refers to the fact that your Google Play Protect is turned off and that various harmful applications can be installed on your device. In order to enable it, all you have to do is -
- Click on the gear icon located in the top right corner.
- Toggle on the “Scan apps with Play Protect”.
4. Have You Installed The Device Admin App?
Employers can use device admin apps to remotely monitor and manage their employees' devices, including disabling specific features and wiping data in the event of lost data. Threat actors can also use the device admin apps to install stalkerware as well as spy on you secretly. Usually, you must not have a device admin app on your phone. But if you spot something that is titled Device Health, Device Admin, or System Service, then they are likely stalkerware apps.
5. Scan Your Device With Security Tools
You can search your device manually for stalkerware and spyware. However, there is an easier and faster method too. You can go ahead and use a mobile security tool such as Malwarebytes or you can go ahead and consult the best cyber security consultant company. Moreover, a surveillance app or app for stalkerware protection might also alert its owner that their device is being scanned or has anti-malware and antivirus protections.
How To Detect And Protect Your iPhones From Stalkerware Apps?
iPhone users are somewhat better off than Android users since stalkerware apps are harder to run on iOS. In spite of this, stalkerware remains a threat if you own an iPhone since it is still possible for someone to install it, especially if you have a jailbroken phone (although the stalker must have some technical expertise to accomplish this).
The Citizen Lab research titled "The Predator in Your Pocket" stated the following:
When stalkerware is installed on a target device, the stalker usually needs privileged access to it. This means that the stalker either has physical access to the phone and knows the phone's passcode (in the case of most Android- and Apple-compatible stalkerware) or the iCloud password of the targeted person (in most Apple-compatible stalkerware).
In domestic abuse situations, it's not that unlikely to happen. In such a scenario, you can take help from one of the best cyber security companies in India.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) profiles can also be used to install stalkerware on someone's iPhone. Several companies use this to monitor their employees on devices they use often, but threat actors can also use it for the surveillance of partners.
So, how would you find out if you have a stalkerware app installed on your iPhone? How would you remove it? Here are things you need to follow:
1. Check The Apps You Didn't Install
On visiting and scrolling down, you will be able to spot a comprehensive list of all your currently installed applications on your iPhone. Go through it properly and check if there is any app that might be unknown to you but is installed on your phone. This could likely be a stalkerware application that needs to be removed at the earliest.
2. Check The App Permissions
While you are still on the apps list, you can take your time and check the individual apps and find out the stalkerware apps list. Check all the apps that you did and did not install on your phone. Go through the iOS App permissions of the individual applications. Did you find any applications with permissions you didn't grant? If yes, then make sure to remove it immediately.
3. Search For The iTunes WiFi Sync
iTunes WiFi Sync is a prominent feature on iPhones. It permits someone to monitor your iOS device remotely from their computer, laptop, or desktop. However, it is only possible if both of you are on the same WiFi network. In order to check it, all you need to do is go to Settings > General > iTunes WiFi Sync.
4. Check Your Phone For Jailbreaks
Jailbreaking is defined as removing specific restrictions on the iPhone based on what apps and software programs can be installed on it. Usually, you can only install the approved applications from the Apple Store. That said, not all unapproved apps are harmful. However, spyware and stalkerware apps are definitely harmful. Thus, you need to watch for apps such as Cydia and Sileo. If you are looking forward to un-jailbreaking your iPhone, you will have to conduct a factory reset of the complete device and/or update the latest iOS version.
5. Review The Phone's MDM Configuration
To do this, follow the below-mentioned steps:
- Go to “Settings”.
- Tap “General”.
- Now Tap on “Profiles & Device Management”.
If you locate an MDM or any unknown configured profile, this means that someone is monitoring your phone. The good news is that you can delete it by simply tapping on it.
6. Update Your iCloud Credentials
As the partners often share their online profiles, it is not uncommon with the iCloud credentials as well. When you're dealing with domestic violence, this can be problematic. If you don't want anyone else to have access to your iCloud account, you should reset your password and use multi-factor authentication (MFA).
It isn't so hard to find and remove stalkerware apps. It is much more problematic when the person who installed stalkerware on your phone in the first place finds out that you have removed it. There is a risk of more domestic violence when you live with an abusive partner, so you must decide if you are safe doing so.
Stalkerware apps permit their owner to monitor the device of a victim without the victim having the slightest hint about it. Regrettably, such applications are not completely illicit. They can be used for both employee and parental monitoring as well. However, most domestic abusers use these.
We call for a wrap-up here. Thank you for staying with us till the end. The purpose of this article is to explain how to find out if you have stalkerware apps installed and what steps you need to take to remove them. We hope you found this read insightful. For more such informative topics, make sure to visit our Knowledge Based Section under the Cyber Security Category.
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