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How safe is your mobile phone from spyware?

It’s easy to take mobile security for granted when using your smartphone. Most people will routinely protect a laptop or desktop computer, but not that many people actually protect a mobile device.

Those who are not taking adequate steps to protect the security of their phone could find themselves with harmful spyware being installed without them knowing anything about it.

The implications of having spyware installed on your phone can be serious – it could lead to the theft of your data including images and videos, if the person or persons behind the spyware were unscrupulous.

“If there’s spyware in your handset, everything that is readable or even whatever that comes through your camera or mic is at risk,” technology expert Prasanto K Roy recently explained to the BBC when questioned about the threat of spyware.

Unfortunately, you can’t protect yourself against data theft – via the use of spyware – with mobile phone insurance.

While Gadget Cover policies can insure your phone against things like accidental and liquid damage, theft and loss (optional), it’s impossible to put a value on your personal data. So, you need to do everything you can to protect your phone from being hacked.

In this article, we’ll discuss the scale of the threat that is spyware and talk you through what you can do to make your phone secure.

What is spyware?

You can probably make a guess on what spyware is based on the name alone.

Here’s how digital security firm Norton describes it: “Spyware is unwanted software that infiltrates your device, stealing your internet usage data and sensitive information. Spyware is classified as a type of malware — malicious software designed to gain access to or damage your [device], often without your knowledge. Spyware gathers your personal information and relays it to advertisers, data firms, or external users.”

While the idea of software which tracks your physical movements and internet usage through your phone can be scary, Kaspersky notes that the majority of spyware is used for advertising purposes (sometimes called ‘nuisanceware’).

However, it all depends on the motive of the group or individuals which have exploited your phone. Spyware can also be used to monitor emails, SMS and MMS messages sent and received, intercept live calls for the purpose of eavesdropping across standard telephone lines or Voice over IP (VoIP) applications, and more.

Considering we tend to do everything on our phones these days, there’s a lot of our personal information that can find itself in the wrong hands.

What is stalkerware?

You might have heard about ‘stalkerware’, a type of spyware.

Stalkerware – also known as ‘spouseware’ – is considered to be a step up from your average spyware programme. That’s because it involves spying on a targeted individual – often a spouse – with the software allowing the user access to messages, screen activity, GPS locations and a phone’s camera.

Stalkerware is a growing threat. Cyber-security experts Kaspersky claimed that the number of people who have fallen victim to stalkerware on their mobile devices has increased by 35% in the last year alone.

In an article on the BBC, several women discussed what is was like to be a victim of stalkerware.

One of the victims, simply called ‘Jessica’, explained how her ex-husband would spy on her through her phone’s microphone and would get into her head by repeating specific phrases she and her friends had used in private conversations.

Gemma Toynton, from domestic abuse charity Safer Places, told the BBC that it not only affects the victims’ perception of relationships, it can cause them to become wary of their mobile device.

“It reduces someone’s trust,” she said. “It makes them see a phone or laptop as a weapon, because that’s what it’s been used for. It really does impact your whole life. The fact that this stalkerware is on the rise is a real concern.”

The BBC’s reporter tested out one of the most popular stalkerware apps. Advertised as an “employee monitoring” or “parental control” product, it came with 24-hour live support and promised to operate in “stealth mode”.

His investigation underlined the sophistication of such products and services – but he notes that when the infected device was tested with cyber-security software, it showed there to be “potentially harmful software”. In other words, spyware is a threat that can be guarded against.

How do spyware and stalkerware become installed on a device?

The best means of guarding against spyware and stalkerware is to ensure you’re not coming into contact with them in the first place. Here’s Kaspersky’s advice for staying spyware-free:

  • Avoid third-party apps – only download apps from the App Store (if you’ve got an iOS device) or the Google Play store (for Android users). The App Store is pretty tight on what it apps it approves, but Google Play is known for being more accessible. So, if you use an Android device, only install applications released by trusted developers that have a good amount of positive feedback.
  • Check app permissions – when you install an app, it asks you for certain permissions in order to work to its full functionality. Obviously, a navigation app is going to need access to your phone’s GPS – but a gaming app doesn’t need those sort of permissions. Take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach – if an app asks for permissions that seem odd, stop the installation and avoid the app altogether.
  • Avoid public connections – when you’re out and about on your phone, you might want to make the most of public, open Wi-Fi connections to save a bit of data. However, these are free shots for hackers who can easily use them to install spyware on your device. So, avoid them unless you absolutely have to get online.
  • Don’t click on unsolicited attachments – as email users, we’ve become well versed in not falling for email scams – we now need to apply that to mobile. So, if you get an unsolicited email – especially with an attachment – don’t be tempted to open it. If you don’t know the source or aren’t expecting the link or document, there’s a chance it could be harmful.
  • Use password protection – if you were to ever lose your phone or have it stolen, you want to know that whoever gets their hands on it can’t do a lot because it’s password protected. It takes just seconds for a professional thief to steal important information from an unprotected phone. Choose a password that can’t be guessed easily.
  • Install a quality mobile security solution – when you acknowledge the harm that spyware can do, it can feel like you’re walking on eggshells every time you use your phone. To get past this fear, you should use a quality mobile security solution. An up-to-date mobile security app will scan applications as you download them to ensure they are clean of viruses and spyware, and continue to check your apps as the mobile threats database gets updated with emerging threats. It will also check websites, text messages and emails for spyware. If the worst happens and you lost your device or it is stolen, a mobile security can give you the option to block access to your information, or wipe the device completely.

What are the best mobile antivirus apps?

There are plenty of mobile antivirus apps out there on the market – but which are the best ones to download for your device?

It depends if you’re using an Android or iOS device. Here are three of the best Android apps, according toTechRadar:

  1. Avast Mobile Security

Avast recently made its mobile antivirus app free to download, having previously charged for it, so you know you’re getting a quality solution from one of the biggest names in device security. The app is free because it’s supported by ads, which can be removed with a small fee if they start to irritate you.

The Avast apps comes with some neat features including a call blocker, firewall and an anti-theft measure which allows you to remotely lock of wipe your device if you suspect it’s found itself in the wrong hands.

Perhaps the stand-out feature, however, is ‘in-app locking’ whereby your device will ask for a PIN before opening certain apps. This means apps like your internet banking can’t be launched automatically.

  1. Bitdefender Antivirus Free

If you’re worried about a security app slowing your device down, then the Bitdefender solution is for you. It doesn’t run in the background which means you won’t have to worry about running out of juice when you’re out and about.

That doesn’t mean your security is compromised – but you will need to schedule scans or run them manually to be safe. Reassuringly, any new apps that you download onto your device will be scanned automatically.

  1. AVG

One of the most popular mobile security apps in the Play Store, AVG antivirus for Android is packed with great features including a Wi-Fi security scanner, app lock, and photo vault to help protect your files.

The performance of your device is also enhanced with the app – it has a feature which aims to kill unnecessary process, turning off battery-draining settings, as well as deleting junk that gets stored in your temporary and cache folders.

Other notable security features include an option to track a lost device with Google Maps and the ability to lock your phone remotely with a message of your choosing.

The best thing about the app, however, might be its ability to take selfies of anyone unsuccessfully trying to unlock your phone and then it emails the images to you (as well as any audio). Catch perpetrators red handed.

Now, here are three of the best iOS antivirus apps, again from TechRadar:

  1. Avira Mobile Security

The focus of Avira Mobile Security is keeping you safe online. So, if you find yourself downloading many apps, this could be the antivirus app for you.

The Identity Safeguard quickly scans the email addresses of both you and people in your contact book to check whether they’ve been leaked online, and alerts you to any breach if they have.

The app aims to optimise your device as well as protect it. In addition to providing you with timely alerts notifying you if apps or services you use are breached, it analyses memory and storage helping to keep your device streamlined.

  1. Lookout: Security and Identity Theft Protection

The Lookout apps promises four layers of in-depth protection, guarding against common security vulnerabilities, suspect activity through apps, dangerous Wi-Fi network and data theft.

If your device was stolen, the app allows you to locate your device, sound an alarm (even if your device is on silent) and display a custom message on the lock screen to help you get the device back.

  1. McAfee Mobile Security

Another free option is the McAfee Mobile Security app, which does exactly what you’d expect it to do – protect against theft, back-up contacts, secure local storage for your media files – plus a little more.

One great feature of the app is the Media Vault, which not only hides your photos and videos, it allows you to take photos and videos from within the app that are then automatically encrypted and stored in the secure file. You can only access these files with Touch ID or Face ID.

We really like the fact that you can remotely wipe contacts if your phone gets taken, or automatically back them up.

There’s also a battery indicator that lets you check the level of your iPhone battery on your Apple Watch – handy if you’re cycling and your phone is in your backpack!

Find mobile phone insurance in the UK

With your smartphone now loaded with an  antivirus app, make sure it’s covered with mobile phone insurance courtesy of Gadget Cover.

We can provide insurance for your phone if it’s less than 18 months. Once purchased, there’s no limit to how long your gadget can be covered. You also need to make sure your device is in good condition and full working order, and that you’re able to provide proof of ownership.

For peace of mind that your smartphone is well protected against life’s little mishaps, get mobile phone insurance with Gadget Cover today.

Get a quote today – and in the meantime, why not check out our other blog on 12 iPhone apps to improve your life?

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