The Dangers of iPhone Spy Software & How To Detect It [iOS]

iphone spy software   The Dangers of iPhone Spy Software & How To Detect It [iOS]There is a growing amount of so-called “spy software” available that promises to log everything the user of an infected phone does while attempting to remain undetectable. Compromised devices are easily traceable via GPS, record all incoming and outgoing text messages and phone calls and can even be used to spy on captured photos and browser history.

Installing such software on Android or BlackBerry devices is morally reprehensible but not quite as damaging as doing so on an iPhone. This is due to the walled garden approach that Apple takes, something the majority of iPhone users take at face value.

Installing iPhone spy software requires you breach this fortress-like security – and that’s just the start of the problems.

A Legitimate Use?

Spy software, by its very nature, is designed to snoop on people. It is for this reason that anyone reading this who is contemplating installing such software probably doesn’t care what I have to say about any aspect of doing so. Clearly if you’re thinking of doing this, morals are not your strongpoint and you’ve probably already ethically justified it in your head. I’d urge you to reconsider this standpoint, but it’s probably a battle I’m going to lose.

Much of this software is marketed in a very broad way. Not only is it advertised to snoopers who want to track the location of an individual or spy on someone’s smartphone usage but it’s also marketed as a legitimate security tool. This is complete rubbish, and will form the backbone of this article. If I can’t change the minds of those who deem such a practice necessary in the first place then I can try to redress the balance for those drawn in by dishonest marketers.

jb ts   The Dangers of iPhone Spy Software & How To Detect It [iOS]

Parents – do not use this software to trace your children. There are free and safe ways of doing this which I will come to at the end of the article. Some marketers even try to target employers and so I must say employers – do not use this software to spy on your workforce. If you’re an employer who feels they need to be concerned about smartphone security then you shouldn’t be allowing non-company devices in the workplace. Period.

Warranty, We Hardly Knew Ye

There is no spy software on the market that will be able to do all it promises – i.e. spy on any activity, trace any location or upload any camera images – without voiding the device’s warranty. Parents installing such software will be voiding their children’s warranty on that device. Paranoid other-halves will be voiding their spouse’s warranties also, and this goes for employers too. Why? Jailbreaking.

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Apple takes a hardline approach to security. The iPhone is not designed to run non-App Store software, this is seen as a security violation by Apple, as a restriction by some users and a safety net by others. Android does things differently – unchecking a box in settings allows the installation of non-Google Play apps, and it’s just as easily reversible.

Not so for iOS devices. These devices must go through what is known as a jailbreak, which involves loading custom firmware onto the device which provides greater freedom, allowing users to run all sorts of unsigned software on the device. Spy software is always unsigned for two reasons – it would never be able to perform its spying duties as a standard app due to iOS permissions and Apple would never allow it in the App Store in the first place. Many people don’t realise it but with some preparation a jailbreak can take a matter of minutes to complete.

When you choose to jailbreak an iPhone you are voiding your warranty by running modified firmware on the device. It will also void any AppleCare after-sales packages you have taken on. This is fine if it’s your own iPhone, and you understand the risks involved in doing so. Jailbreaking your device is generally a very safe operation, and even a jailbreak gone wrong is unlikely to “brick” your iPhone. It’s the jailbroken firmware you’re left with that poses the biggest security risk.

jb ms   The Dangers of iPhone Spy Software & How To Detect It [iOS]

Jailbroken phones are able to run unsigned apps and this includes potential malware. If the root SSH password remains unchanged once the jailbreak is complete, malware could run riot on your phone and with no Apple guardians to oversee software, you have to rely on third-party developers to be the judge and jury. If you think about it, spy software is malware by design but marketed as valid software.

iPhones and other iOS devices that have been jailbroken are also often unable to run some genuine App Store apps. Developers have ways of detecting a jailbreak and can now prevent jailbroken devices from using their services. One example would be DIRECTV which delivers streaming video and another reported app is Skype for iOS. Many banking apps are also restricted for obvious reasons, two examples being CommBank and Kaching from Australia’s Commonwealth Bank. Getting these apps working again involves playing a game of cat and mouse between developers and the jailbreak community.

For the unsuspecting jailbroken victim, apps like these will flatly refuse to run as they won’t be installing the latest exploits to circumvent the restriction.

Detecting Spy Software

There’s actually no guarantee you’ll be able to find evidence of the spy software itself, as such software is designed to be hidden from view. Instead there may be a few left over telltale signs of a jailbreak, and if you find them and but have not performed a jailbreak yourself then you can pretty much guarantee someone’s designated you as a mark. If your partner or parent has jailbroken your device for you then it doesn’t mean you’re being spied upon, but it will be difficult to prove otherwise without reverting to stock firmware.

One sign of a jailbreak is the Cydia app. Even if this app has been hidden from the home screen, searching for it (swipe left-to-right on your first home screen) should still find it. First go to Settings > General > Spotlight and ensure that Applications is ticked. Then search for Cydia from your homescreen and if the application is there, your phone is jailbroken.

cydia check   The Dangers of iPhone Spy Software & How To Detect It [iOS]

There is no guarantee of finding Cydia, and the careful snooper will probably try all they can to hide any signs of a jailbreak. Other apps to search for that might suggest a jailbreak include “Installer”, “Icy”, “SBSettings” and “Installous”. Similarly, installing an app like those mentioned above might reveal something is up if they refuse to run.

Removing The Software

Because jailbreaking is a game of cat and mouse played between Apple and those who choose to jailbreak, the latest and greatest iOS firmware won’t always be jailbreak compatible. Keeping your phone up to date and performing all iOS updates as and when your iPhone notifies you about them is the best way to remain secure. Eventually iOS versions will be jailbroken and at this stage removal is surprisingly easy.

According to many jailbreaking communities, reverting your phone back to stock Apple firmware does the trick. Myself I’m not so sure Apple isn’t noting down the unique identification numbers (UDIDs) of jailbroken devices via the App Store, but it would seem restoring your phone “as new” will remove all traces of a jailbreak.

restore itunes   The Dangers of iPhone Spy Software & How To Detect It [iOS]

For those of you convinced you’re being traced this is as simple as plugging your phone into iTunes and choosing Restore. If you choose to revert to a backup, there’s a chance some evidence of the jailbreak will be retained and if your phone needs attention from Apple (either as part of a 12-month warranty or the extended AppleCare package) then you will be denied service. For this reason, be sure to back up everything you want separately and transfer purchases within iTunes.

Parents Listen Up

There is a free alternative to spy software for parents who are concerned about the whereabouts of their children. Find My Friends works across Apple devices and uses Apple IDs to connect friends and family. By authorising a friend or family member to view your location in Find My Friends, they will be able to see where you are whenever they like. Creepy? You bet.

Find My Friends can be customised to prevent the location being displayed on the transmitting device. This is due to the fact that it is not spy software, but a tool for staying in touch. It gives the user a choice over whether to reveal their location at all times and it does none of the snooping on text messages, phone calls or camera photos. Using Find My Friends doesn’t teach your children that spying on people is the right thing to do, and instead pressures you to enforce basic smartphone safety and talk to your children about why you want to use such a service.

jb sg   The Dangers of iPhone Spy Software & How To Detect It [iOS]

If you’re worried about your children’s uncanny ability to lose things then remember to enable Find My iPhone, a similar service accessible via iCloud. For as long as the phone is left in the same state it was when it was lost it will be traceable using Apple’s own plan B.

This isn’t a lesson in parenting, but a lesson in ethics and trust. It’s also a lesson in not being ripped-off by marketers trying to sell you a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Take a close look at the FAQs and you’ll see the requirement for a jailbreak quietly mentioned, behind advertising phrases like “completely undetectable”.

Finally

All software that promises to spy on an iPhone requires a jailbreak. Some do not mention it in their marketing speak, but it’s a requirement and for as long as Apple maintains its iron grip it always will be. Many of these packages are not one-off payments but subscription models that require a minimum term, which quickly adds up.

Be smart, be safe, be honest and don’t get ripped off. If you have any questions about your iPhone’s safety, spy software or alternative apps for other platforms then don’t forget to ask MakeUseOf Answers.

Have you had any experience with such iPhone spy software? Have you been on the receiving end? Have you ever installed or trialled a service? Is Find My Friends good enough? Get out the soapbox and have your say in the comments, below.

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38 Comments -

Scott M

With ever more slotting of consumers sorted into their tiny little exact buying trends through less than honest Public sites and third party cookies etc. this is very useful info for me.I have no doubt that some items are being sold to us that monitor our activity for market research and are sold to the highest bidder.Canada was going to allow the Chinese telecommunications system to help us with building an important leg of a new system.It was only stopped when news of Chinese manufacturers pre-installing tracking code witch allowed for accurate retrieval of data and info on some of their computers and phones that were assembled there and sold here.It was decided to stay with N.American and European methods for beefing up the specific part of the system.
Not a paranoid rant just what happened.I’m not blaming China in particular just letting others know that certain high tech products and systems built in Foreign Countries have potential to data gather and spy.For large Corporations it must be very tempting to build a code to allow for analysis of consumer buying habits and to gain inside info on competitors or info on what they could add,based on spying,to make their product more specific to consumer wants at the expense of other honest players.Its a bad old world we live in sometimes.

Tim Brookes

Actually that’s very interesting, and while it’s a bit of a leap away from the article subject I have also heard similar things. Particularly about Huawei, a Chinese government-owned (or part-owned, at least) telecommunications giant who are probably most famous for their cheapo Android smartphones.

In actual fact Huawei make most of their money selling telecommunications gear to the rest of the world. They have the industry to produce this stuff faster and cheaper than everyone else, and so many countries have no option. I forget where I saw it but one installation was stopped over fears that installing Huawei network switches which would eventually serve confidential/sensitive data posed a threat “just in case”. I also don’t blame China as a whole, but there’s no arguing the government is incredibly shady and manipulative – brazenly so. I also despair at the environmental wrongs occurring, but that’s an entirely different topic!

lisa

You said if these apps are installed on your phone you may have trouble running them? When I typed in these apps they got weird. I had a feeling someone put spyware on my phone I am trying to detect this. Apple nor attt will help they say they aren’t that tech…Spy store says it will cost 3000 bc it is forensics… Can you help me see if it is on my phone with any further tips? If I restore my iphone can I get it off? I have the Iphone 5
Thank you!

Tim B

Lisa – if you type in “Cydia” to Spotlight, does anything come up? What makes you think something has been installed on your phone, does it act up at all? Has your phone been outside of your possession recently?

Restoring your phone in iTunes should indeed remove any traces of jailbreaking and spy software, so if you’re really concerned then that wouldn’t be a bad idea. Make sure you have a copy of your Camera Roll (photos and videos) first! Also make a backup of your phone in iTunes, which you can then restore afterwards.

BDG

You left the vendor’s name visible in the first graphic (over Features) while blurring it everywhere else.

Tim Brookes

Yeah I noticed that after but have you seen how many times it occurs? I figured a name and shame wouldn’t go amiss just this once ;)

Tim Brookes

After more thought I’ve removed the name now, FYI.

Jack

Why do you hide the name of the company? You feature all the details and specifically leave this key information out!????

Tim Brookes

They were all found on page 1 of a Google search for iPhone spy software.

I didn’t want to give these companies any free publicity to be honest, I wouldn’t like this article to help such companies gain customers as it will probably show up in search results before long and attract both those looking for info about spy software and those looking for the software itself, how detectable it is etc…

I’ve re-blurred one of the images that featured a name now for uniformity. I don’t think leaving the names out detracts from the message here.

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Parents should keep healthy communication with their children. It’s much, much better than trying to spy on them. Trust me, they wouldn’t respect you doing that, which will strain the communication even further. You don’t want that, do you?

Tim Brookes

Children learn by example first and foremost, and so installing such software on their devices is only going to teach them that doing such a thing is acceptable when really, it’s not. I didn’t want to get too preachy about this in the article as we’re a tech site, not a parenting site, but this is a definite concern of mine.

Add this to the whole rip-off/security nightmare side of things and you’ve got a very compelling argument not to do this to your kids. On another note, I’m not sure how many employees would like the idea that their boss is monitoring every text, website visited AND where they are via GPS outside of work. I’m guessing there’s some legal repercussions to be had here, though I don’t think we’ve had a landmark case yet?

Benji

If you EVER have problems with your iPhone listen up. Ok let’s say that you leave your iPhone out in the rain and you think it’s ruined we’ll listen to this trick. Try putting it into a bag of rice (completely bury it). Then over night, the rice attracts Asians that will fix your electronics for you. ????????????????

Leonard

How can you say it’s morally wrong to install spyware on a phone? Is it morally wrong to cheat on your spouse? Yes! What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I don’t buy what you’re saying, if someone is cheating on their spouse then they have no grounds to complain if their phone has spyware.

Tina Sieber

You can’t compare apples and oranges. Just because you suspect (!!!) that one person does something that is wrong, doesn’t give you the right to wrong them, even if that helps you confirm your suspicion. It’s not how morale works and it’s also not how the legal system works.

If you put spyware on a person’s phone without their knowledge, you not only do something that’s morally wrong, you also violate their privacy and that could be turned against you in court. So yes, they have every reason to complain!

2 cents

If someone does cheat and gets a std or worse HIV and in turn gives it to you shouldn’t that b against the law? That Person is putting your health at risk. Stds can give a women scar tissue which can lead to infertility or a ectopic which could end in DEATH and worse case u can get HIV. I’m on the fence on spyware. I understand the legal laity of spyware if that i but I also know how your life can change due to a cheating spouse and the reality some are left with after the fact.

Tina Sieber

Well, you have the responsibility and ability to protect yourself. If the relationship has eroded to the point that you suspect your partner might harm you, then you need to either end the relationship or work on it because it’s seriously broken. Spying on your partner won’t solve anything, it will only make things worse.

Tim Brookes

Tina’s answer says it all, though what you’ve just said is “two wrongs make a right” and I don’t believe that is true.

Colin J

Are any of the “remote install” spy software packages legit? If so, could they be used to track and record activity on a non jailbroken iphone4? I know this question sounds crazy, but I would just like a definitive answer so i can stop worrying about it…

Tim Brookes

No they are not. No iPhone spy packages are legit without a jailbreak, if someone wants to install something on your phone then they have to do it by jailbreaking.

People who can track you with an iPhone are: those you approve on Find my Friends (unmetered tracking at all times) and anyone who has your Apple ID password (as they can login to iCloud and use Find my iPhone). A few other third party apps (Google Lattitude) might also share location, but there’s no chance of anyone being able to view your calls, messages and so on without a jailbreak.

cjones

Thank You,

1 more…..is it possible for someone to remotely turn on my iphone4 bluetooth…my phone is not jailbroken…

Tim Brookes

No it is not possible.

If you have an iPhone, with standard Apple firmware on it (iOS) and you haven’t gone out of your way to jailbreak or authorise others to view your location (via a means like Find My Friends) then you have nothing to worry about :)

Cjones

Ok cool….as far as the non remote install…the kind that have to be installed on the target phone…do any of them actually relay exact screen images of the target phone to the spying phone in real time? For example if I took a picture or sent a text or visit a website would it pop up on the spying phone’s screen?

Thank You

Tim Brookes

I do not know exactly what the non remote install packages do and do not capture, but I believe they create logs of information – so logs of texts, logs of call durations and recipients etc… rather than relaying a live image or via screenshots.

This would probably be in the form of plain text files, probably fed straight into their online control panels.

JD

Teen Safe is a remote monitoring site. I used it for my son’s iPhone. Morally wrong or not, it gave me the information I needed to confirm he was still using drugs even though he swore he wasn’t. In today’s world, it’s not always possible to trust that the things you taught your kids will stick, especially if they get involved with the wrong people.

Mike

Smart Parent JD….

Toni

I was worried my iphone 4s had spyware on it. The battery runs down very fast, even when I’m not using it. I have to charge it all the time. I tried your examples above for searching out Cydia and the others … and I do not see obvious signs of a jailbreak. Just so I’m reading this right… there is no way to put spyware on the phone without jailbreaking it first? Thank you for your time.

Danny D

How about this analogy… I work on a computer where I am employed. I do not own it and do not expect privacy when I am using it. It is clearly stated by my employer that it is being monitored. I know that they don’t take the time to look at each and every email or website visited etc., but they have the capability and the right to do so. I have no trouble with that.
Similarly, I own and pay for my child’s iphone. It is my phone that I am allowing them to use. I make is clear that the phone is being monitored and that any activity on that phone is available for me to see if I so choose. I am not trying to trick them. I have no interest in looking at every little message they send or recieve, but I want them to understand that I have the capability to do so. Just as I can go into their room at any time.
As long as everything is out in the open, as long as they understand they are being monitored, is that immoral or unethical? What do you think?

maggiebear

hi – i just recently gave my friend my iphone to get fixed and they went to jailbreak it. I have suspision that there might be some spyware on it when it is returned to me, can someone please help me and tell me how i know if it has spyware on it and how i can detect it… and if they are infact spying on me how i can remove it from my phone? thank you

bellak

the most amazing spyware i know in the market is the the keylogger BOSSPY because this application is really invisible. i dont find yet the way how to detect this app.
anybody can use this freeware to spy anybody and the most terrible its free using

Ang2013

My husband and I had what I thought was a happy marriage with 3 beautiful kids.  He was good to me, I frequently met people who would tell me that my husband talks about me constantly and boasts about how happy he is.  Even on social media I get embarrassed by the way he talks about me as if I’m the best thing ever.  One day while his phone was charging, a message buzzed in.  It was the secretary from the office.  “Hi Hun.  Call pls”.  The word “hun” puzzled me.  I asked him and he offhandedly said oh we just all call each other that at the office.  I flew into a rage about how inappropriate it was and he promised to deal firmly with this insubordination. The red flag wouldn’t go away, so I decided to install spy ware.  My goodness.  Turns out he was having an affair with this secretary since before our 3rd child; a third child he pressured me into having and planned coming up with names and buying things for the baby before I even conceived. Through the app I read some sick things they did together.  Worst of all, she would even remind him of our wedding anniversary and help him choose places to take me and order flowers.  I got endless info of how they arranged things. Favorite time to meet was 6.30am at her apartment.  My husband always often left home early because he wanted to be home by sunset to spend time with me.  I read messages by him to her like, “did you enjoy what I did to you this morning?”. Her reply, “omg it was amazing, I can still feel it”.  I don’t need sympathy.  Just need to say that this app saved my life.  It helped me discover who my husband really was.  Even if any of you met this “wonderful Christian upright man” you would think I was lying.  To cut a long story short, I confronted without revealing app and during the “deny to the grave” stance most men initially have, I still saw messages from him to her like, “deny it, but when we meet I want you to cry uncontrollably for maximum effect etc”!!!  
If I had taken the moral high road, I wonder what would have happened to me.  As far as I’m concerned, I wasn’t just spying on him, I was protecting my emotional investment.

pat

what spy app did you use? I am going through the same emotional torment.

Dani

Ok, can someone use my banking app through spyware, and again confirming this is only possible if my phone has been jailbroken?

Tim B

People cannot use your banking app using ANY of these methods, even jailbreaking.

Dani

Thank you. I’ve got anxiety now about spyware, oy! My bank account was compromised today and my battery is acting Crazy! Cheers to the weekend.

Anonymous

Thanks a million! For an idiot like me, this was very informative. Please don’t stop educating us about these devices.

l33t_sh1tz0r

to the know-it-all who wrote this, a legitimate use for that software is to learn information pertaining to the well-being of a minor. consider being the partner who is cheated on; they’ve used every trick in the book to do u on all fronts and YOUR one-off effort to sort it out and learn simply the truth (whatever your purposes for it may be….), is not the equal of you being morally or otherwise sub-standard in any way. like i said above, the interests of a young child ought to compel any rational, say, PARENT, to want to learn whatever truth may be found in order to look out for the child’s and dare i say their own well-being.

since when is looking out for yourself a sub-standard way of going about “existence”? hmm? what line must be crossed to achieve this sub-standard status? yes? who are we to even consider judging this upon ourselves personally, let alone complete strangers…

nice arty-cool though, ty =D

Tim B

A rational parent doesn’t give a child free reign to do what they like with a smartphone. A rational parent doesn’t give their child unhindered access to the Internet. A rational parent sits down with their child and teaches them the boundaries when it comes to social networking, contacting strangers and responsible use of 21st century communication methods. A rational parent does not teach their child that spying on people is ok, because it’s not – in fact, it’s illegal!

Similarly, spying on a partner because you yourself suspect they are cheating on you is just as illegal. Two wrongs don’t make a right, not to mention the fact that it breeds a mentality of suspiciousness, jealousy and destroys the boundaries that keep a healthy relationship healthy.

Looking out for yourself is making the right decisions in life. Any semblance of moral high ground is removed when you use these techniques to “reveal the truth”. What if the truth isn’t what you thought it was? Would you tell your other half “sorry I have been illegally monitoring everything you do on your phone for 2 weeks cos I thought you were cheating on me lol” – how would that go down? It would destroy my relationship, and I hope that many other people would react in the same way. Because it’s not right.

Not to mention the act of jailbreaking puts your phone at risk of non-working apps, malware and all manner of this sort of software. I’d be just as pissed off about that. Anyone concerned about someone installing such software on their phones can sleep easy if they have iOS 7 installed, as it has yet to be jailbroken.