How to Check Your Devices for Stalkerware

Whether it's a prying boss or a paranoid partner, no one should snoop on your phone or laptop. But that's exactly what can happen if stalkerware somehow gets installed on your devices. These software tools are designed to be hidden and difficult to detect, but you can find them if you know how.

There's a wide range of scenarios here, from friends playing pranks to partners being abusive. If you're in a relationship where you feel trapped and afraid, help is available from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the Coalition Against Stalkerware, and many other places—please reach out.

Dealing with programs planted on company-owned devices by your employer is a little different than someone you know personally trying to spy on you. The company you work for may have what it sees as valid reasons to keep tabs on how productive you are, especially if it provides the hardware and software you use every day.

Regardless of whether that kind of monitoring is justified, at the very least your bosses should be telling you they're watching rather than keeping it a secret from you. Plus, with company-owned phones and laptops, it's always safer to assume you are being monitored.

This guide focuses on software designed to be hidden—but remember there are plenty of legitimate parental control apps and built-in tracking tools (like Apple's Find My) that can be used by people in your family or by people who set up your devices. The difference is that it should be obvious if these types of apps are running, but you should still be aware of them and how they can be used.

How to Check Your Phone

The good news for iPhone users is that it's virtually impossible to install stalkerware on an iPhone: Apple's locked-down approach to apps and app security isn't always user-friendly, but it's very effective at keeping you safe. iOS simply doesn't let apps get deep enough into the system software to be able to secretly monitor what you're doing on your phone.
There's one exception to this, and that's if your iPhone is jailbroken (unlocked so that any apps can be installed). Considering how difficult this is to do nowadays, we're assuming that isn't the case—someone else would need to be tech-savvy and borrow your phone for an extended period of time to jailbreak it. The easiest way to check is to look for apps called Cydia and SBSettings on the home screen.

Reduced battery life is one sign that your phone has been compromised.

Screenshot: David Nield via Apple