How To Tell If Spyware Is Hiding On Your Android Phone

Spyware is a constant annoyance at best (and danger at worst) for any device connected to the internet, which is something Android users know all too well. From innocent-looking apps quietly taking control of phones to fraudulent system updates, the nefarious software seems to be everywhere, and it's almost never easy to deal with once it takes root. The best way to counteract spyware is to avoid getting it on your system in the first place. 

Make sure to keep your Android devices up to date with the latest security patches. Don't click suspicious links on web pages, in emails, or in private messages — even if they're from people you know (who could have been hacked). Always use strong passwords for your accounts. Avoid installing apps from unfamiliar sources and pay attention to the permissions they ask for. Always use trusted and secure Wi-Fi networks. Prevention doesn't help if spyware has already wormed its way onto your devices, though, so it's important to know how to find it and get rid of it when that happens.

How to find and remove spyware on an Android device

The simplest step is to keep an eye out for any apps you don't remember installing. Unfamiliar apps could be spyware trying to disguise itself as something mundane and easily forgettable. Pull up your device's Power menu screen, then press and hold Power Off until the safe mode option appears and select it. Once your device restarts in safe mode, open Settings and select Apps, then look for anything on the list that looks out of place. If you find an app that you don't remember installing or are otherwise suspicious of, select it and choose Uninstall to get rid of it. Google lists a number of other possible signs of malware, as well, including usual battery drain and storage capacity decreasing for no apparent reason.

If safe mode doesn't work or you want to be certain you've gotten the malicious software off your device, you could take a more scorched Earth approach by restoring your device to factory settings, which will completely wipe any and all data and apps that weren't present when it first came out of the factory. To do this, open Settings and select Backup and Reset > Factory Data Reset, then select Reset Phone and confirm by entering your device's PIN or password (via Samsung).

Keep in mind that the precise language presented in Settings may vary slightly depending on your phone's manufacturer. This method will require you to either restore a backup from before you suspected a spyware infection or manually re-install and reconnect all your apps and services — but in severe cases, the latter option is the only way to be sure.

Other spyware-catching methods

There are a number of third-party apps designed to detect spyware, though if you decide to try one out, be careful as the same rules for other unfamiliar apps apply. Just because an app says it will locate and get rid of spyware doesn't mean it actually can or that it isn't spyware itself. Another option is to trick installed spyware into revealing itself. First, you'll need to set up a shortened website URL (shorturl, tinyurl, bit.ly, etcetera). What it links to is less important than it being a functional link, so even if it only connects to a goofy photo or your online wishlist, it'll still work.

Once the link is set up, send it to a friend via social media message, text, or email and tell them not to click on it. Give it some time to sit (making sure nobody has followed the link), then check the short URL supplier's metrics to see if the link has been followed. If there's activity on the link and you're sure neither you nor your friend used it, then it was likely followed by something you don't want to have on your phone or tablet.