Have you ever been in the middle of a phone call with someone and heard a strange sound, like a click or a static noise, and wondered if your phone was being tapped? If so, you’re not alone. Many people are concerned that their personal and business communications might not actually be private and they are worried about phone tapping. Smartphones can be especially vulnerable to tapping, particularly if you have decided to jailbreak or root your device to take advantage of third-party apps you can’t find in an official app store, for example. Fortunately, there are a few smart steps you can take and signs to figure out phone tapping.
What Is Phone Tapping?
According to the Wikipedia, phone tapping (also wire tapping or wiretapping in American English) is the monitoring of telephone and Internet-based conversations by a third party, often by covert means.
Signs of Phone Tapping
1. Phone Tapping Increase Mobile Data Usage
Keeping a close eye on your phone bills can save you a lot of cash. But it can also help you spot spyware.
Countless apps vacuum up huge amounts of data, especially if you don’t connect to free Wi-Fi offered by many stores (because this can be a security concern too). It’s even worse if you let your kids use your device while away from home. Still, you should know roughly how much data you use each month.
If this amount increases dramatically, you need to narrow down exactly why that’s happening—and if you can’t find the reason, it might that a third party is intercepting your messages.
Malicious software uses your data allowance to send information it’s collected to an outside source. That means it’s not solely relying on your home Wi-Fi: it’ll be consuming data wherever you are.
2. Unusual Background Noise
If you hear pulsating static, high-pitched humming, or other strange background noise when talking on the phone, that may be a sign that your phone is being tapped.
- Strange noises do crop up from time to time on cell and landline calls, however, so this is not a surefire indicator that something is wrong. You’ll want to check for other signs of unusual activity on your phone as well.
- Your phone should be quiet when it is not in use. If you hear unusual sounds like beeping, clicking, or static even when you are not in the midst of a phone call, your phone may be tapped.
- You can check for inaudible sounds on your phone by using a sound-bandwidth sensor on a low frequency. If it finds sounds several times in one minute, your phone may be tapped.
- If you have a landline phone: If your phone emits a dial tone when it is on the hook, this may also be a sign that it has been compromised.
3. Incessant Battery Problems
Before iOS and Android caught on, battery troubles were a sign of a phone tap. Hot batteries remain a concern when it comes to smartphones.
You are probably very familiar with an overheating battery anyway. You might have even visited a phone store and inquired about the issue. In most cases, you will simply be told it’s standard for smartphones. Apple, for example, typically only worries if your device has got so hot, it’s shut itself down.
Why does your smartphone get so hot? Using numerous apps and consuming endless media will make your handset warmer, though this shouldn’t be enough to cause any damage to you or itself.
However, a hot battery can also be a sign of cell phone tapping. Uninvited software could be running in the background, allowing someone else to listen in.
Furthermore, be suspicious if your phone simply isn’t holding charge.
Monitor your phone: remember which apps you’ve used and how they affect your battery. If it consistently runs low on battery, despite you not using it that frequently, that’s too strange to ignore.
Older handsets don’t hold charge as well as newer models, however, so you need to eliminate other possibilities before looking for nefarious purposes.
Equally, you need to take note of other reasons your handset might be hot. Have you been sunbathing with it nearby? Have you been using lots of apps consecutively? Is a phone case locking heat in? Is another device connected via Bluetooth?
High temperatures and low power can nonetheless be indicative of malicious software. You then need to look out for other signs your phone is tapped…
4. “Strange Texts and messages” Is Another Sign of Phone Tapping
How do you know if your phone is tapped or being spied on? You might be ignoring the signs already!
What you might pass off as spam, a nuisance, or a wrong number can be an alert that something’s wrong.
Suspicious SMS will be a seemingly-randomized series of digits, characters, and symbols, which will immediately strike you as odd but perhaps not especially malicious.
Do not ignore them.
The most likely cause of this is a fault in spyware used by cybercriminals. If it hasn’t installed properly, coded messages will appear in your inbox that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. These random data sets are instructions sent from the servers of a hacker to tamper with the fraudulent application. Alternatively, it could be the app trying to contact its creator.
Likewise, if any family or friends say you’re sending them bizarre texts or emails, this is a sign that your phone is compromised. This could mean your infected phone is trying to install malware 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 folder and outbox. If you can’t remember sending something, be suspicious.
5. Unwanted Apps and Adds
You know your phone like the back of your hand—which is to say, not very well. You become overly familiar with your operating system, meaning you forget half the apps on there.
But it’s imperative that you know exactly what’s on your phone, especially the apps running in the background. If you’ve not installed them, they could be malicious.
One such piece of malware that tampers with your cell is Hummer. This Trojan infected about 1.4 million Android devices per day in early 2016. First spotted in 2014, it was most prevalent in countries like India, Russia, and the Philippines.
It’s estimated that, if the virus creators (likely based in China) got just $0.50 per infection, they could have made a profit of over $500,000 in just 24 hours.
Victims will see intrusive ads too because malicious software doesn’t always hide itself. Once installed, Hummer aims to obtain root access—i.e. administrative rights—to your device. This allows it to download unwanted content, and makes it incredibly difficult to get rid of. Even initiating a factory reset doesn’t work.
Malware can generate a lot of ad traffic, and thus increase data usage further.
6. High Phone Temperature
When you are conducting high-stakes business in a foreign city or trying to go undetected at your opponent’s facilities, it may not be your highest priority to keep tabs on what your phone is doing. But if you suspect that your phone is tapped, make a point of checking its temperature periodically, when you have been doing something else. If the phone feels hot to the touch, it’s possible that your phone is continuing to run software that you haven’t authorized — something you don’t want to deal with as you try to put the bad guys behind bars.
7. Websites Looks Different
This is a tricky one, but staying vigilant could save you getting ripped off.
It’s a scam we’re all familiar with, but no one’s infallible. We all forget advice, and make mistakes. If that mistake is clicking on a URL in a text or email, it can cost you big bucks.
However, you don’t even have to be redirected to a fraudulent link through a message. If there’s a malicious app on your phone, it could alter the appearance of websites you frequent.
The malware acts as a proxy, intercepting communications between you and the site you are trying to visit. It might be presenting a false page to you, or simply keeping track of anything you type. And no, it doesn’t matter if you’re on Private Browsing.
This really becomes a problem if you are using a site that requires personal details. That could be a password, financial details, or mere Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which is a major currency on the Dark Web. PayPal, for example, is a worry; so too is mobile or online banking.
8. The Other Sign of Phone Tapping Is “General Performance Issues”
It’s only natural that, the more data being used, the slower your device will be.
HummingBad is similar to Hummer, a Trojan with an estimated 10 million victims. It finds its way onto a device when a user accidentally downloads a fraudulent app. Fake versions of YouTube or WhatsApp, for instance, can still be found on the App Store.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be overly paranoid. Most of us won’t be victims to a phone tapping. Nonetheless, it is worth brushing up on some security measures.
Reduce risk of infection by only downloading from official app stores; Apple and Google screen apps and games before letting them become available to the masses. Knowing which is the most secure mobile operating system can be helpful, and keep your eyes peeled for signs that your phone has malware.