These days, there doesn't seem to be a limit to what a cell phone can do. In addition to making calls, sending and receiving text messages, and taking pictures, people use cell phones to store phone numbers and addresses, check their e-mail, browse the Internet, schedule appointments, take notes and even read important documents. While such features have transformed the cell phone into a handy, easily accessible instrument for managing your life, they also make it a powerful tool that outsiders can use to spy on you or steal personal information. While it's not always obvious if spyware is present, there are some red flags you can look for to determine whether your privacy may have been compromised.
Look for Opportunity
Since it can't be installed remotely, the biggest challenge for someone who wishes to install cellular spyware is taking possession of a phone long enough to do it. So if you suspect spyware has been installed on your phone, the first thing to do is determine whether anyone's had the opportunity to do it. Has anyone recently borrowed your phone? Have you left it at someone's house or in someone's car? Do you usually leave your phone on your desk when you're in a meeting or at lunch? While a "yes" answer to any of these questions may not be proof you're being spied on, it certainly can be a reason to look into the issue further.
Shedding Light on Spyware
While many spyware applications claim to be undetectable, there's one telltale cell phone action most haven't been able to find their way around: automatic in-use illumination. To help you better see the keypad, cell phones automatically light up when they detect any activity---including the transmission of data sent by a spyware application. So if you notice your phone lighting up when it's not being used or receiving a text message, that could indicate data is being sent to the person who installed spyware on it. Also, if your phone takes longer to power down than it once did, that could indicate a hidden application is running.
Know Your Phone
If you're like most people, you're probably clueless as to the meaning behind each of the icons displayed across the top of your phone's main screen. But rest assured, they do mean something: usually, each represents a feature or application that's either enabled or in use. To find out what each icon means, consult the user guide that came with your phone. If the "GPRS" or "Internet" icon is displayed when you're not using these services, there could be a problem. Or if you find an icon that doesn't seem to belong, it probably represents an application that wasn't factory installed---possibly spyware.
Spyware is active even when your cell phone isn't, generating inventories of your incoming and outgoing calls, copying text and picture messages, preparing Internet history reports and so on. Then it takes all the information it's collected and forwards it to the person who installed the spyware---either as text messages or via the Internet. So another red flag would be any indication that your phone's being used more than you're actually using it. Maybe the battery has been dying out more frequently. Or perhaps your phone bill has gone up because of increased text messaging or data plan use. Either way, if you feel these issues weren't caused by your own usage, there could be spyware on your phone.
Playing It Safe
Although the aforementioned indicators can be valuable in determining whether spyware has been installed on your cell phone, an absence of them doesn't necessarily mean your phone is clean. Cell phone spyware is getting more advanced all the time, and there are already a few high-end applications available that might even give the CIA's best spy detectors a run for their money. So above all, use common sense. If you know someone is accessing your personal information and suspect he or she is getting it through your cell phone, it's probably best to not take any chances. Restoring your phone's factory settings will erase all applications that have been added since you purchased it, including spyware. This can be accomplished by either following the instructions in your cell phone's user guide, or by bringing the phone to your service provider and having a technician do it for you.