If you’re a spy, a secret agent, or an undercover operative, then you likely live a more exciting life than the average person. You’re probably outfitted with clothes, cars, guns, and gadgets that the rest of us can’t afford. And you likely know more than a person with a more typical — dare we say, boring — job about coming out the victor in a car chase, robbing an art museum without getting caught, emerging from hand-to-hand combat with nothing more than an artfully placed scratch, detecting secret passageways, and tracking your target via low-tech and high-tech means.
But no matter how skilled you are at picking locks and breaking codes, there is a hitch in what even you will admit has been your dream job since childhood. And that’s the fact that you may not always know when your opponent, your rival, or another unspecified villain is spying on you. We’re not talking about government surveillance, but surveillance by the bad guys with bigger SUVs, more idiosyncratic wardrobes, more henchmen, and more tragic backstories than the good spies.
You’re likely already aware of the importance of turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you aren’t using them, avoiding the use of apps that need to know your location, and ensuring that your phone never falls into the wrong hands. But sophisticated opponents may still be able to tap your phone, and closing a case may hinge on your ability to determine whether something suspect is going on with your phone. Ensure that you’re prepared for your next assignment by familiarizing yourself with the following briefing on the top seven signs that your phone is tapped. If you’ve noticed one or more of the following warning signs, make sure to jettison your phone in a drainage ditch, sewer, or busy thoroughfare at your earliest convenience.
1. Strange and unpredictable behavior
Many of the signs that your phone is tapped or being tracked are subtle, even difficult to detect. The first sign may be a vague sense of misgiving when you check your messages. Or you might begin to feel a creeping unease when you listen to your boss’s latest voicemail — an unease that’s unrelated to the unusual demands of your job. Or, you may notice strange behavior in your phone. The screen may suddenly light up when you haven’t touched it, or it could begin to make strange noises, shut itself down, or otherwise behave in an erratic manner that you find yourself disinclined to tolerate when your job and lifestyle are unpredictable enough.
2. Excessive battery drain
The high-tech apps you need to track your target or circumvent your rival’s security system are likely quite taxing on your smartphone’s battery. But if you find that your phone’s battery suddenly has less stamina than usual, that may be a sign that your opponent has planted some software that is accessing your phone. However, bear in mind that this is more likely with inexpensive spyware, rather than the pricy solutions that world-class villains are likely to select. So unless your opponent is more minor league than major league — unlikely given your standing in the international intelligence community — it’s also possible that the battery drain is a symptom of a naturally aging phone. Your best bet is to contact your requisition officer about a replacement.
3. Persistent background noise
Particularly in locales with less-than-ideal mobile reception, background noise on the phone calls you have to make and take is a fact of undercover life. That means that in most cases, occasional background noise is nothing to be paranoid about. But persistent background noise in the form of echoes, static, clicking, voices, or beeping may be a sign that someone is listening in on your calls. Like a disguise that’s outlived its utility and is becoming a liability, or a dead body that needs to be disposed of, this is a phone that you’ll want to leave behind, and as quickly as you can.
4. Strange texts
You’re a spy and a world-class operative, so strange texts and unusual calls are part of the job. But if you start to notice really strange text messages — ones with random characters and strange symbols — that can be a clue that your opponent or rival is tapping your phone. Spy software that can remotely control your phone often sends coded text messages to your phone, and if that software malfunctions, you may be able to see some of the messages. If odd texts become a regular occurrence, that may be a clue that your phone is tapped. Unless your grand plan involves letting your opponent think he’s secretly spying on your location or your communications, this is probably the end of the road for you and your smartphone.
5. Unexpectedly high data usage
A steeper-than-expected data bill is likely the least of your worries when you have a villain close on your tracks or you have to save the world from a ticking time bomb. But if your phone is suddenly using much more data than usual, that may be a red flag (barring any hours-long games of Minecraft, Pokémon GO, or whatever game is popular among international men and women of mystery). Some spyware will use extra data to send the data it collects to whoever is tracking your movements — though again, this is more common with inexpensive programs than sophisticated software. A sudden and significant uptick in data usage may be a sign that something is wrong, and if you want to stay one step ahead of your opponent, you ought to replace your phone ASAP.
6. High phone temperature
When you’re 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’ve 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. Leaked secrets
Though it’s preferable for any spy or secret agent to detect a tapped phone before the situation comes to this, you may realize that someone is spying on your phone only when your secrets and personal information are leaked. If luck is on your side, this won’t turn into a public scandal or end your career in disgrace. If you suspect that someone is tapping your phone, you can test your theory by sharing a piece of fake information via a message or call — though your boss would likely prefer that you simply get a new phone instead of playing games with a dangerous opponent.