Finding Hidden Android Spy Apps

How To Find Hidden Spy Apps On Android

You may have become suspicious that someone has put a hidden spy app on your Android phone because you noticed it behaving strangely. Or, perhaps, you're worried someone close to you may have bad intentions.

Whatever your personal reasons are, protecting your privacy is important and we will tell you how to find and remove hidden Android spy apps in this in-depth article.

Finding Hidden Spy Apps On Your Android Phone

Use The 'App Drawer' And View Hidden Apps

Using Android's App Drawer to find hidden spy apps

The easiest way to find a hidden spy app on Android is to use a special setting in the 'App Drawer' to view hidden apps. Just follow these steps:

Step 1: Open The App Drawer

The 'App Drawer' icon is usually shows as three dots in the bottom-right of the screen, depending on the version of Android you are using.

Step 2: Select 'Menu'

The 'Menu' icon is usually shown as a gear or three dots at the top of the list, depending on the OS version your device is running.

Step 3: Select 'Show Hidden Applications'

In the Menu, select to 'show hidden applications' and then select 'All'. Every installed app should now displayed, including any hidden app.

Step 4: Remove Unrecognized Apps

Slowly scroll through the list of apps installed and make note of any app you do not recognize or use frequently. You will want to research these on Google to see if they are spy apps.

Remove any suspicious or unneeded app you find, as these are just security vulnerabilities waiting to be exploited.

If your device does not allow you to remove an app, you may need to use the second method, below, to disable and remove spyware.

How To Use Safe Mode To Find Hidden Spyware On Android

This method is more thorough and sure to find hidden spyware on your Android phone.

Step 1: Reboot The Android Device Into Safe Mode

  • Hold down the power button.
  • When the "Power Off" option is show, press and hold it until an option to "Reboot to Safe Mode" appears.
  • Press "OK".
  • When Android reboots, you will see an indicator you are in "Safe Mode" in the bottom-left of the screen. While in this mode, all third-part apps are disabled and only essential apps will be running.

    Step 2: Go To "Settings"

    Select "Apps" or find and select "Application Management". You should now see a long list of installed apps.

    Step 3: Check For Unrecognized Applications

    Slowly read over the list of all the applications installed on your cell phone. For any apps you do not recognize or have doubts about, write down the name and version number so you can do a Google search about it later.

    This is a time consuming process, but you can be certain nothing has escaped your attention.

    You should also be aware that some spy apps will disguise their name to be very close to a legitimate app, or at least to sound like it could be legitimate. For this reason, you should treat every app listed you don't use regularly with suspicion.

    Step 4: Remove Unrecognized And Un-Used Apps

    As you review the list of apps installed on your device, remove anything you do not recognize as it may be spyware, malware, or a monitoring application. This is also a good opportunity to get rid of any apps you do not use. Unused apps do more than take up room on your device, anything out-of-date is also an entry point for hackers and can make it more difficult to spot malicious apps because you become used to seeing apps you don't use.

    Step 5: Block Unknown and Unverified Apps

    If you do not need to run an app that is not verified by the Google Play Store, disable permissions for installing or running unverified apps.

  • Go to 'Settings'.
  • Tap 'Additional Settings'.
  • Uncheck the box to allow applications from 'Unknown' sources.
  • Aside from disabling the ability for these apps to run, also review if a unknown or unverified app is listed and remove any app you do not recognize.

    Step 6: Cold Restart Your Android Phone

  • Power off your phone.
  • Wait 10 seconds.
  • Power on as you normally would.
  • Doing this instead of rebooting forces Android to do a cold start, with no app potentially remaining resident in memory.

    If you find strange activity or tell-tale signs of spy apps, pay close attention to changes or improvements in performance. Any changes for the better should serve as confirmation that spy apps or malware had been active and it may warrant further investigation, even though the monitoring app should now be disabled.

    Signs That Hidden Spy Apps Are Installed On Android

    Spy apps are specifically designed to remain hidden from the user. Fortunately, on the opposite end of the battle are Google engineers working to secure the Android operating system.

    Because of this cat and mouse game, Android spyware is rarely totally hidden if you know where to find it and how to spot these tell-tale signs of its presence.

    1. Unexpected Reboots

    If your phone reboots on its own, investigate further to see if you can find hidden spyware.

    Because this is such a dependable indicator of having spyware installed, check that your Android phone is set to ask you before applying operating system updates. If your Android phone is set to automatically apply operating system updates, it may automatically reboot for entirely valid reasons.

    When automatic updates are turned off, there is no valid reason for Android to reboot by itself.

    2. Screen Turning On When in Sleep Mode

    If you receive a lot of text messages and notifications, you have probably become acostumed to seeing your screen come on when your smartphone is not in use. However, if you notice it does this for no apparent reason, such as when no call or message is being received, it should be considered suspicious.

    3. Reduced Performance

    Smartphone manufacturers rely on planned obselesence, or their devices becoming slower and less dependable over time, to sell more smartphones. But this decline in speed is usually gradual. If you notice that your device seems to run noticably slower than it did even a couple of weeks ago, there is likely a hidden spy app running in the background that is causing the slow-down in performance.

    4. Long Boot Time And Crashes

    If your cell phone is less than 4 years old, it should always have a fast boot time and should never experience crashes. If you notice your Android phone takes a lot longer to boot, or common applications seem to crash for no reason, this could be due to a poorly running spy app.

    5. Unusually Short Battery Life

    Hidden spyware runs constantly in the background. Rather than going in and out of an idle state, like a normal app, they can stay in an active state permanently. This is especially true if the hacker is activating your microphone or smartphone camera, as these are resource intensive and the recordings will be uploaded to the Internet in the background.

    Heavy battery usage is almost impossible to avoid with a hidden spy app, which makes it an excellent indication that you need to find hidden spy apps on Android.

    6. Phone Is Running Hot

    an Android phone in flames from overheating

    Smartphones have high-power processors which do not always run at full power and poor cooling. This means doing resource intensive tasks, like operating the camera for long periods of time, can cause the device to noticeably heat up.

    You have likely noticed that your phone may become warm, or even hot, to the touch after extended use, and this is normal. However, it's extremely abnormal for an Android phone to be warm when it should be in an idle state.

    Because spy apps are always running, they place more load on the CPU, drawing more power from the battery, and heating up your phone.

    7. New Suspicious Applications or Files

    Sometime the users of a spy app, or the program itself, will make a mistake and show an icon for the app. Other times, you may spot log files it has not yet uploaded to the hacker. Most spyware doesn't just send copies of your data and multimedia but also records your activities and these recordings have to be stored somewhere before they are uploaded to the hacker's dashboard.

    For these reasons, you may see files or icons appear for no reason, and this should be taken as an indication that spyware may be on your phone.

    8. Unexplained Data Usage

    Most users have a fairly consisten pattern of data use and it should be obvious if you suddenly start using more data than is normal.

    When investigating, any legitimate app will be listed with how much data it used. If a disproportionate amount of data was used by 'Other', it may be caused by spyware.

    9. Suspicious Text Messages

    2-Factor Authenticate (or 2FA) is increasingly common for accessing sensitive accounts when the site does not resognize the device logging in. For accessing financial accounts, it's almost always required. These are the text messages you get with a code you have to type in before you can access your account.

    An Android spy app will be able to take over total control of your phone and can allow a hacker to steal the passwords for your accounts. However, they still have to contend with the two factor authentication.

    Unfortunately, with total control over your phone, they can access your accounts from anywhere in the world and then intercept the SMS security message that is sent to you.

    The weakness in this tactic is that you may see the SMS message be received on the target phone. If you receive any SMS messages with 2-factor authentication codes or security links you did not request, immediately change the passwords for those accounts and follow the steps on this page to find hidden spy apps on Android.

    10. Extended Shut Down Time

    The amount of time if takes android to shutdown should be fairly consistent. Sometimes, and app takes a little longer to close out, especially if it's been a long time since you have turned your device off. However, if you notice shutdown times are consistently longer than they used to be, that could be an indication spy apps are present as they have more open files and system hooks need to be closed.

    About The Author
    Ukrainian born, and a self-taught computer security expert. I started hacking when I was 14 and can write code in 5 languages, but have no formal technical education. The edge of technology is what keeps me interested. I cover cell phone tracking, spy apps, cybersecurity, the dark web, and certain gadgets for The High Tech Society.