Of all the “wares” out there, “stalkerware” is one of the most frightening. There’s nothing fun about malware or ransomware, and these can leave you feeling foolish and abused. But stalkerware is specifically designed to know where you physically are located. In many cases, stalkers know exactly what you’re doing and when, too.
One popular app uses GPS to track a phone’s location, gives you a full log of all calls sent and received, and even shows you text messages and web activity. This information is available online after you create a free account. Tap or click here to learn more about the free tracking app and get links to download it for iOS and Android.
Phones aren’t the only ways people can spy on your every move. Tap or click here for tips on how to find a hidden GPS tracker on your car as they’re hard to spot, too.
Thankfully, Google and Apple have been dropping the hammer on stalkerware. The fact that the companies have plausible deniability as “child safety” apps means that the problem is unlikely to disappear any time soon.
So how do you know if your device has stalkerware installed? Here are clues that your gadget is infected with some form of malware (both Android and iOS, jailbroken or not).
1. A surge in data usage
Check your data usage from prior months. If you notice sudden spikes in your data, even though you haven’t really changed your usage patterns, there’s a possibility your phone is infected.
Similarly, adware-infected phones usually perform unsolicited clicks in the background to generate profit for cybercriminals. All of these stealthy tactics use up bandwidth, and the unauthorized data they consume should be relatively easy to spot.
2. Unexplained charges
One other sure sign that an Android gadget is infected is by incurring unexpected charges on your cell phone bill. These will likely appear under the “SMS” category. These charges happen when your gadget is infected with malware; the programs send text messages to premium-rate numbers, which will charge you.
3. Sudden pop-ups
You may start to receive annoying pop-up ads and notifications, or unwanted reminders and “system” warnings. Malware can add bookmarks that you don’t want, website shortcuts to your home screen that you didn’t create, and spammy messages that entice you to click. Apart from slowing down your phone and eating away at your data, these intrusive notifications can also install even more malware on your phone.
4. Unwanted apps
Unwanted apps may not be a huge problem for iOS, but they can definitely appear on Android phones, as well as jailbroken iPhones and iPads. Keep an eye out for apps that you don’t remember installing. Trojan malware, especially adware, is known for automatically downloading further malicious apps without your knowledge.
Also, cybercriminals try to mimic and clone legitimate apps to trick users into installing them. Then, they use automatic app updates to switch them out with malware.
5. Battery drain
As you can imagine, all this unauthorized background activity can impact your battery life. Such battery-sucking viruses may be disguised in third-party apps and unreliable downloads, and once you install the program onto your phone, you’ll start to see an abrupt drain.
If you start noticing drastic reductions in your battery life, it might be infected.
6. Overheating device
That heavy data use also leads to another symptom of stalkerware, which is an excessively hot phone. I live in Arizona, where heat-strained phones are standard, but most new smartphones won’t overheat except in extreme environments or use.
What you can do about it
1. Prevent stalkerware from being installed
Prevention is always the best, but most people don’t know how their phone is vulnerable. A hacker can compromise your device with a malicious text message or email, but the most common method requires physical access to the phone.
That’s why stalkerware is largely a tool for domestic abusers – who would have an easy time getting to their spouse or significant other’s device. Making sure your phone is secured with a proper passcode, biometric data (if possible), and remote-erase capability.
2. Erase and reset your device to remove stalkerware
No matter what kind of phone you have, your first step is to back up your data. Then, get to work.
If you have an Android device, navigate to Settings, tap Backup & Reset, and then select Factory data reset. This will erase your phone and replace it with a fresh version of Android. For added security, it’s recommended you update to the latest version of Android as well.
On iOS, navigate to Settings, then tap General, then scroll to the bottom and select Reset. From here, select Erase All Content and Settings. Doing this will completely wipe your device and reinstall a fresh copy of iOS.
3. Remove stalkerware and spyware from your computer
It also bears mentioning that computers aren’t immune to stalkerware or spyware programs. Granted, your desktop isn’t going to move around as much as your phone, but it can still be frightening when someone has access to your search history, emails, and private data.
Worse yet, many computer-based spy programs contain keystroke loggers that monitor the things you type. What does that spell? I-D-E-N-T-I-T-Y T-H-E-F-T.
Thankfully, there are several malware removal programs that can eliminate the issue without erasing or reformatting your computer. Many spyware and stalkerware programs install in operating system folders that can’t be accessed normally. A smart approach for removal is booting into a dedicated virus removal tool.
All this means that your computer “loads” from the antivirus software instead of your operating system which allows you to clean out files that would be skimmed over otherwise.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or, tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.