Is your smart phone tapped? That may sound like a dramatic and pretty unrealistic question. And yet it's not. With the advent of better malware, and with laws like the Snooper's Charter, phone tapping is a lot more common that you might think. So are we overreacting? That's for you to decide. And how can you know if your phone is being tapped? That's what we're here to find out.
Phone Tapping, Seriously?
When you think about phone tapping you probably think about the old fashioned police dramas that you see on TV, where a tapped line means that someone else can listen in to your phone calls. The truth is that with modern technology we've had to redefine exactly what we mean by tapping. Nowadays phone tapping really refers to any method that gathers information from your phone. That being the case, the chances are that your phone probably is being tapped in at least one way. There are various things to consider here:
- Legal tapping: meaning the police or law enforcement are listening to your calls or intercepting your messages;
- Employer tapping: meaning that the IT department of your company has access to your phone records, back ups, SMSs, and data use for your work mobile;
- Illegal tapping: meaning malware or viruses on your phone are leaking information to someone;
- Limited tapping: meaning certain apps are taking information from your phone and sending it back to app producers.
Given this, it's clear that your phone probably is tapped at least in some way. The last incidence in particular is very common, and you have probably even given permission for some apps to tap your phone (maybe to a map app so that it can gauge your position, for example). It should also be clear that tapping isn't always bad. In some cases, it could even be useful for you (like that map app), whilst in others it's understandable if uncomfortable (such as your employer accessing your work phone). However, there are times when tapping is not okay, so how can you know that your phone is being tapped?
Signs of Tapping
In the movies and on TV characters generally guess their phone is being tapped when they hear a click on the phone line when they pick it up. Sadly, modern day tapping isn't that easy to catch. In some cases you should already know. Your employer, for example, should be totally up front about the fact that the data on your work phone can be accessed. And apps should ask for your permission before using your info. But what about in other cases?
There are no hard and fast rules, but there are some signs that should plant the idea of tapping in your mind. Performance issues are probably the best sign that something is going down. If your data use is higher than you think it should be, or if your battery drains faster than you think it should, it could be that malware is running in the background of your phone. Of course, there are other reasons for these problems (like simply running an older phone), but you should consider malware in your diagnostics. Apps or ads that you haven't downloaded suddenly appearing on your phone are another key sign that all is not well. And if you're especially observant, a change in appearance of an app or website can be a sign of tapping. This generally occurs in sites like Amazon, or credit card reader apps, things where you would enter payment information. Thieves try to replicate apps and sites as best as they can, then run them through malware on your phone, but these duplicates are rarely perfect.
Finally, strange messages could be a sign that something's up. If you get a text message that's a strange collection of symbols, numbers, or looks like computer code, this usually means that there's a flaw in the malware code that's already on your phone. If this happens to you, you're going to want to solve your problem pretty fast...
So What Can I Do?
There are many things that you can do to protect yourself from getting tapped. In the case of your work phone, make sure you know whether or not your employer accesses your records (you can simply ask), and don't use your work mobile for anything that's not job related. In the case of law enforcement, there's not a lot you can do, you're just going to have to trust that the police are doing their job (and refrain from illegal activities...).
It's really malware and app spying that present the biggest threat here. And the best way to combat these is to be sensible when downloading to your phone. Don't root your mobile, and only ever download apps from your default app store (either the Apple App Store or Google Play). Even then, problem apps occasionally slip through. Look at customer reviews before downloading, and only download things that you actually need, cutting the threat further.
You might also want to get an anti virus app for your phone, and these work in the same way as computer anti virus programmes work. Avast and Bitdefender both make excellent protection apps to keep you safe. Make sure you run scans regularly, and stay up to date. And if a programme does find malware, allow it to clean your phone for you. If malware is found, you'll also want to go in after clean up and change your passwords and check things like your credit card bills to make sure no payments were made in your name.
Tapping is Real
With all the modern technology we have phone tapping is real, and it could happen to you. Unfortunately, in many cases this tapping is legal, meaning there's not much you can do about it. Your best bet is to be careful, and don't do anything on your phone that you wouldn't like a stranger to see, that way, you have nothing to worry about!