Whether we like it or not, most of us have grown used to the possibility of our phones being spied upon. Dystopian novels such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four are so ingrained in our minds that a study carried out back in 2014 concluded that 74% of Americans thought that they shouldn't give up privacy for the sake of safety.
Nevertheless, there's a considerable argument that many of us have given up on their our privacy. And thanks to laws, such as the so-called "Snooper's Charter" in the UK, state surveillance is increasing. However, let's not forget that other parties can tap into your cell phones - most troublingly, hackers and extortionists, but also your employer, an ex-partner, or even, in the case of celebrities, the press. They could be listening to your calls, reading and sending texts and emails, or altering the information on your interface.
Here are six things that you should watch out for.
Before iOS and Android were popular, battery troubles were a sure sign of phone tapping. And hot batteries remain a concern when it comes down to smartphones.
If you're taking full advantage of your phone, using numerous apps and consuming a lot of media, then you're probably very familiar with an overheating battery. You might have even taken your phone into a store and enquired about it, only to be told that it's standard for smartphones. However, it can also be a sign that some uninvited software is running in the background, allowing someone else to listen in.
Furthermore, you should be suspicious if your phone isn't holding a charge. Playing games and watching YouTube will obviously devour your battery, but if it's consistently running low, that is a little odd. Old handsets don't hold a charge that well, so you need to eliminate other possibilities before looking for nefarious purposes.
Equally, you need to find other reasons why your phone might be hot: have you been sunbathing with it nearby? Have you been using a lot of apps at the same time, or watching numerous videos? Is the protective case locking all that heat in?
Still, high temperatures and low power can be indicative of malicious software, so you then need to look at some other signs...
2. Increased Data Usage
You should be paying close attention to your phone bills anyway, partly because having a hands-on approach to your finances can save you a lot of money, as well as a way of spotting spyware.
We know that many apps use up a lot of data, but it's pretty easy to reduce what you're using, including connecting to free WiFi offered by shops and restaurants. Malicious software also uses your data allowance, in their case to send information on you to an outside source.
Therefore, unless you have recently downloaded an app that requires a lot of battery and data, you'll know approximately how much data you use each month. If this increases dramatically, you need to find out why this is happening. If you cannot find the reason, it could be that a third party is intercepting your messages.
We're so familiar with our phone's interface, that it's easy to forget that you've downloaded an app. It can sit there unnoticed for a good 6 months or so before you realize it's there. However, it's vital that you know exactly what's on your phone, especially those apps that run in the background. If you have not installed them yourself, they could be malicious.
One such piece of malware that tampers with your phone is Hummer, a Trojan that has infected millions of android devices across the globe since 2014. With high concentrations of affected devices in countries such as India, Russia, and the Philippines, this virus has become the most common Android virus in the world. It has been estimated that if the virus' creators get just 50 cents per infection, they could be raking in $500,000 dollars a day.
With a daily average of 1.2 million affected devices, Hummer can generate a lot of ad traffic, so again, noticing an increase in data usage should help you spot anything dodgy.
4. Performance Issues
Hummingbad, a similar Trojan to Hummer, has an estimated 10 million victims. As with Hummer, it finds its way onto a device when a user accidentally downloads an app that's purporting to be something else - a fraudulent version of YouTube or WhatsApp, for example.
Cyber criminals are making $300,000 a month by running such apps and then promoting pop-up adverts. The malware also gains access (or, in extreme cases, tricks you into downloading a fake systems update in order to gain complete domination of your device), then transmits information to a server controlled by Yingmob, a group of Chinese hackers. That means that they could intercept all your messages.
All this data being transmitted and received will slow down your device considerably. This is not isolated to Hummingbad - you'll typically suffer performance lags whatever method a cyber criminal has used to bug your phone.
Obviously, real apps will take up power, but they shouldn't noticeably affect your device's reaction time.
You can check which apps are using the most RAM. On iOS, you just need to go to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > Manage Storage. On Android, click Settings > Apps and swipe over to Running. You'll likely see Photos & Camera and Music near the top of the list, but from here, you can properly assess your app usage, and check for anything that doesn't ring true.
What you might simply think is nuisance, spam, or a wrong number can actually be an alert that something is up with your smartphone.
Suspicious SMS text will be a randomized series of digits, characters, and symbols, which will immediately strike you as odd, but perhaps not especially malicious.
The most likely cause of this is a fault in the spyware used by the cyber criminals. If it hasn't been installed properly, coded message will appear in your inbox that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Likewise, if your friends or family inform you that you're sending them weird texts or emails, this is a sign that your phone has been compromised - and potentially that the software that has infected your phone is trying to install on the devices of your loved ones.
Keep an eye out for any activity you don't recognize. Look at messaging chains, social media profiles, and check your Sent and Outbox. If you cannot remember sending something, be suspicious.
6. Websites Changing Appearances
This is a tricky one, but staying extra vigilant could prevent you from getting ripped off.
It's a scam that we're all familiar with, but we often forget advice and make mistakes. If that mistake is clicking on a URL in a text or email, it can cost you big time. However, you don't even have to be redirected to a fraudulent link through a message: if there's a malicious app working on your phone, it might alter the appearance of websites you frequently visit.
The malware acts as a proxy, intercepting communications between you and the site that you're trying to visit. It might be presenting a false page to you, or simply keeping track of anything you type - no, it doesn't matter if you're on private browsing. This becomes a big problem if you're on a site that requires personal details, whether that's a password, bank details, or mere Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which is major currency on the Dark Web. PayPal, for example, is a worry; so too is online or mobile banking.
Worried About Your Phone?
Don't get paranoid: most of us will never be the victim of phone tapping. Nevertheless, it's worthwhile brushing up on some security measures. For example, only downloading from official app stores will reduce the risk, as Apple and Google screen all programs submitted before letting them become available to the masses. To add to this, you should definitely install some anti-virus software.