AVG Signal Blog Security Malware How to Remove Spyware From Android

Written by Domenic Molinaro
Published on February 25, 2021

Why is spyware dangerous?

Spyware is a dangerous type of malware because it can record your voice and access your camera, banking info, and other sensitive data. Some spyware records everything you type. With this level of surveillance, spyware creators can steal your data and identity and infect your friends’ devices with spyware, too.

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    Spyware on Android phones has become a growing problem over the years. You may have downloaded a spying app without even knowing it. If your alarm bells are going off — and you’re asking yourself, Is there spyware on my phone? —  read on to learn how to detect Android spyware and get Android spyware removal instructions.

    How did spyware get on my Android phone?

    If you have spyware on your phone, chances are you got it from an untrustworthy source. You should always download apps from the official Google Play Store. But even then, cybersecurity researchers do occasionally discover spying apps in the Play Store. These are removed quickly, but not before racking up thousands of installs.

    You installed Android spyware by accident

    Look at ratings and consult reviews to see what others have said about an app. Reviews can help you avoid accidentally downloading keylogger malware that records everything you type, including credit card details and private messages. If you want to be certain your texts stay private, use an encrypted messaging app.

    When you install an app, it will ask for permissions to access parts of your phone. Check that the Android app’s requested permissions make sense for what it does. Permissions can grant access to your passwords, phone numbers in your contact list, your browsing history, and even your text messages.

    Some malicious apps will even pose as anti-spyware Android apps. Sneaky! Don’t grant permission unless you know the app is completely trustworthy.

    Someone else installed spyware on your Android phone

    Never leave your phone unattended, especially if you can’t trust the people around you. A paranoid partner or family member can target you with stalkerware, apps that stay hidden on your phone and monitor your every movement. The stalkerware will report back to the person who installed it, letting them spy on you without your consent.

    You were targeted by a phishing or smishing attack

    Phishing is a type of cyberattack that uses fake email and social media accounts to fool victims, while smishing uses text messages instead. Both approaches have the same goal: using social engineering tricks to con you into giving up sensitive information.

    After learning a bit about you, phishers and smishers will entice you to tap a link, download an attachment, or respond to a text.

    Some severe types of malware can even hold your phone hostage. Ransomware can lock your entire Android device or just certain files until you do what it wants.

    Now let’s go over the spyware warning signs so you’ll know when it’s time to check for spyware on your phone.

    How to detect spyware on an Android device

    First, update to the latest version of Android to automatically fix any known problems. The process for checking for spyware on your phone revolves around one key principle: if it seems weird, there’s probably something wrong.

    It’s weird if your phone is super slow. It’s weird if your battery is draining quickly. It’s weird if you’re getting tons of pop-ups. One red flag on its own might be nothing to worry about. But if you’re noticing several of the warning signs listed below, your Android device could be infected.

    A dedicated anti-spyware app will monitor your Android phone in real-time to detect any traces of spyware and remove it immediately. And it’ll block malware from landing on your phone in the first place. It’s always better to avoid malware than to remove it.

    Slower speeds

    If your phone boots up slowly, loads apps more slowly than usual, or takes forever to shut down, it might be time to check your phone for spyware. Since spyware is constantly monitoring and transmitting your data, it will hijack your phone’s available resources. It also doesn’t want your phone to shut down until it’s finished doing its business, so it will fight a shutdown as well. 

    If you’re running the most current Android version, your phone shouldn’t be overly slow.

    A quick-draining battery

    Spyware will hog your phone’s battery, since it needs energy to watch what you are doing and send the evidence to its makers. This constant background activity places a heavy demand on your phone’s battery.

    If you aren’t the type to leave lots of apps open or don’t spend too much time on your phone in general, you should have plenty of battery. Getting rid of spyware is just one of many ways to free up space and extend your Android’s battery life.

    Device overheating

    Spyware doesn’t care about your phone’s health. Your phone’s CPU and RAM are like your phone’s heart and brain, and spyware will push them both to the point of exhaustion. It will keep running programs, using data, and consuming battery until your Android device is about to collapse. 

    There could be other reasons why your phone is hot and overheating, such as faulty internal wiring or if you’re running too many apps at once. But if you aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, and if your phone is otherwise healthy, then you might have a spyware infection.

    New apps appearing

    You can inadvertently download apps onto your phone by tapping on suspicious links in your email, social media, or text messages. Spyware can also bookmark random websites and “stick” them to your homescreen to look like apps. If you get one strange app on your phone, it may proceed to download other strange apps on its own. 

    Keep an eye out for malfunctioning apps as well. Spyware creators don’t care if their software causes problems or forces other Android apps to close unexpectedly. 

    If you notice an app that you don’t remember downloading, it could be spyware. And if the settings on your phone keep changing or new settings appear, that’s a sign of spyware as well.

    Abundance of pop-ups

    Pop-ups on your home screen are not normal. Sometimes legitimate apps will push ads onto your phone through notifications, but these can usually be turned off with a swipe.  

    Annoying ads, constant system warnings, or other disruptive pop-ups may be caused by spyware — or they may signal another type of malware called adware that is specifically designed to spam you with ads. Adware creators get a little bit of money each time you view or tap their ads. Use an adware cleaner tool to clear out your phone if this is an issue.

    Unexplained data usage

    Spyware tends to run a lot of tasks simultaneously, many of which involve sending your data. Spyware can track your location on GPS, eavesdrop on your voice calls, and even record what you’re typing or what pictures you’ve viewed or clicked on. All of this activity will chew through your mobile data.

    If you’re using more data than usual, spyware might be spending all your data for itself.

    Larger phone bills

    Unexpected charges on your phone bill are one of the biggest red flags for spyware. Android spyware commonly sends texts to “premium rate” numbers that belong to the spyware creators. This is a direct line to your wallet. You might also be charged for data overages that you didn’t notice.

    How to locate spyware on Android

    To locate spyware on Android devices, you need a good spyware cleaning tool. It’s the only way to quickly find spy apps on your phone and get rid of them forever.  You can try and manually locate spyware, but it’s designed to be hard to find — a spy who can’t hide isn’t much of a spy.

    To scan your Android phone for spyware, use dedicated antivirus software. Antivirus software like AVG Antivirus for Android will scan each app to find and remove the culprit that’s bogging down your device and prevent any future spyware from being installed.

    How to remove spyware from Android

    Scanning your phone with an anti-malware app is the best way to remove spyware. Without one, you’ll need to uninstall suspicious apps one at a time to see if it fixes the problem. If your troubles persist, reset your phone to its factory settings. Resetting your phone will remove spyware, but you’ll also lose everything on your phone that isn’t backed up.

    You can also go to Settings > Network and Internet > Data Usage to check how much data each app is using. If an app is using a lot of background data and you don’t know why, it could be spyware.

    Using a dependable mobile security app is the easiest and most reliable technique for cell phone spyware detection and removal. And, because spyware doesn’t infect only Androids, the same goes for removing spyware from your PC, removing spyware from your Mac, or removing spyware from your iPhone.

    Delete suspicious apps

    To confirm that your problem is caused by spyware (or another type of malware), reboot your phone in safe mode to prevent third-party apps from running. If your issues still persist in safe mode, then something other than malicious software is giving you trouble.

    1. Hold down your phone’s power button until you get the rebooting options screen.

      Android's power off screen
    2. Long-press the Power off option. You’ll see a prompt asking you to reboot to safe mode. Tap OK.

      Android's "Reboot to safe mode" confirmation screen
    3. On the bottom left, it should say “safe mode.”

      Android's home screen in safe mode
    4. Now that you’re nice and safe, check for sketchy apps. Open your Settings and tap either Apps or Apps & notifications.

      App settings screen for Android
    5. Scroll through all your apps and tap Uninstall on any app that looks suspicious. If you don’t recognize an app, chances are it’s not one you want on your phone. You can do a quick Google search to confirm your suspicions before uninstalling.

      App uninstall confirmation screen for Android
    6. Some malicious apps will act like an administrator to keep you from uninstalling them. If that’s the case, you’ll have to remove the app’s admin permissions. Getting to the administrator privileges screen is a bit different depending on what version of Android you have, but you’ll need to go to Settings > Security > Advanced > Device administrators.

    7. On the Device administrators screen, uncheck the box next to the malicious app. See if any other apps have permissions that they shouldn’t and uncheck them, too.

      Device adminstrator permissions screen for Android
    8. Now go back to the app list from before and uninstall the app that you couldn’t previously remove, along with anything else you don’t recognize or need.

    9. Restart your phone in normal mode and see if your problems are gone.

    Voilà! Enjoy your (hopefully) fixed phone.

    Perform a factory reset

    If you want to be sure that your phone is clear of spyware, reset it to its factory settings. But before you do this, back up your important data. Here’s how:

    1. Open Settings and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

    1. Tap System.

    2. Select Backup. Make sure the “Back up to Google Drive” toggle is in the On position.

    With your data freshly backed up, here’s how to remove spyware from your Android phone with a factory reset:

    1. Open Settings, scroll down to System and select it.

    2. Now select Reset Options.

    3. Select either Factory data reset or Erase all data (factory reset), depending on what kind of Android update you have.

      Backup and reset data screen for Android
    4. Tap Reset device to confirm.

      Factory data reset confirmation screen for Android
    5. Enter your PIN or password.

    6. Wait a bit. It will take some time for your phone to delete everything, reset completely, and reboot.

      Welcome screen for Android
    7. When it reboots, your phone will ask you if you want to use a backup or start new. Choose a backup from before you began having problems with your device — otherwise, you risk reinstalling the spyware back on your phone.

      Screen prompting whether a user wants to use backup data or start fresh for Android
    8. Enjoy your spyware-free phone! Now, install an antivirus app so it doesn’t happen again.

    Download a spyware removal tool

    Having a good spyware detector and remover for Android is a must if you want to stay malware-free. Every year, more and more people report that their mobile phones are infected. AVG AntiVirus will defend your phone not just against spyware, but against all types of Android malware and other threats as well.

    1. Download and install AVG AntiVirus for Android.

    2. Open the app and tap Scan Now to scan for any malware such as spyware, adware, or viruses.

      AVG AntiVirus "Scan Now" screen
    3. AVG will efficiently scan your entire device to detect even the most hidden spyware.

      AVG AntiVirus for Android performing a malware scan.
    4. Once it finds the threats, tap Resolve Issues, and AVG AntiVirus will delete the spyware forever.

      AVG AntiVirus for Android detecting spyware and other threats.
    5. With your spyware removal complete, you’ll be protected from any future infections.

      AVG AntiVirus will delete also spyware and secure you against future infections.

    Yep, removing spyware with AVG AntiVirus is that easy!

    Choose AVG’s trusted Antivirus to remove spyware from Android

    Protect your phone with the award-winning AVG AntiVirus for Android. We’ll keep our eyes and ears out with real-time anti-malware, anti-phishing, anti-spyware, and anti-adware protection. And, should your phone ever get lost or stolen, we’ll even help you track it down.

    Join the hundreds of millions of people who keep their data safe with AVG. If you want to find and remove spyware on Android, or anywhere else, it’s best to have a trusted expert in your pocket. Do your phone (and yourself) a favor and install AVG AntiVirus today — completely free.

    Remove and block spyware with AVG AntiVirus

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    Domenic Molinaro