Phone hacking is increasingly common and could be a source of anxiety – especially for the younger generations. But, you can look out for things to identify such a threat. Plus, if you are hacked, it’s not the end of the world. You can regain complete control and restore your security in a few steps. In this guide, we’ve gathered some of the most asked questions about smartphone hacking and some tips you can use if you fall victim to an unscrupulous hacker.
With over 60% of fraud originating from cell phones, you must know what it is, how it happens, how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens to you. With practically everyone having a smartphone these days, you should take your cybersecurity seriously.
Can my phone get hacked?
Unfortunately, all phones can be hacked. However, androids may be slightly more susceptible due to Apple’s built-in hacking defenses. Androids can also download apps from places other than the official App Store, and you should always take care to download apps from verified sources if you have an Android.
Who would hack my phone?
It’s difficult to pin down a motivation, but generally, hackers are criminals who gain illicit access to networks to steal PII or data. Black-hat hackers are considered malicious instead of white or gray-hat hackers who lack malicious intent.
What is hacking?
Phone hacking happens when someone accesses your phone or communications without your consent. This can occur through malware, security breaches, theft/loss of the device, or brute force attacks. It can happen on both iOs and Android devices.
Signs you’ve been hacked
If you’ve been hacked, there’ll be a few tell-tale signs. A factory reset and antivirus scan is a good idea if you suspect anything. These are some signs to look out for:
- Drastically lower battery life – if your phone suddenly starts to lose battery charge, you should be suspicious
- Your phone runs slower
- You notice strange new activity on your online accounts, such as password reset attempts, unfamiliar logins, or new account signups
- Unfamiliar texts or calls
- More popups than usual
- Unfamiliar apps
- Higher than usual data usage
Dealing with a hacker
- Antivirus software: Even if you didn’t previously have antivirus software, it’s not too late to download it. Antivirus software can help you remove or quarantine malware so that it won’t harm the rest of your phone, and then it can strip it from your phone. You should then keep the software to ensure that future incidences can be dealt with appropriately.
- Reporting for fraud: If you see any suspicious activity on your banking apps or other financial accounts, you should report it to your financial institution, such as your credit card provider. You should also alert your credit report to the possible fraud, including the possibility of identity theft if your sensitive information is compromised.
- Deleting suspicious apps: If you see any apps you don’t remember downloading, delete them just in case. Malicious apps are thought to be responsible for a large percentage of spyware.
- Factory-reset your phone: If you have too many apps or want to be sure that you’ve removed any malware, you could opt for a full factory reset. Restoring to factory settings can remove any suspicious apps containing malicious software.
How to factory reset an iPhone or iPad:
- Open ‘Settings’
- Go to ‘General’
- Then go to ‘Reset’
- Tap ‘Erase All Content And Settings’
- Enter your passcode/Apple ID password when prompted
How to factory reset an Android:
- Click ‘Apps’
- Open ‘Settings’
- Go to ‘Backup and reset’
- Click ‘Factory reset’
- Choose ‘Reset device’
- Click ‘Erase everything’
Once you’ve successfully reset your phone, you should change all of your passwords, just in case.
How does phone hacking happen?
Phone hacking can happen in several ways; let’s take a look at some of the prominent examples:
- Phishing: Phishing scams have long been a concern – first beginning on PCs with email scams and now targeting phones. But phishing doesn’t just happen via emails – it can also occur via scam calls. If you receive a strange link from someone you don’t know, you shouldn’t click it. The same goes for anything received on social media.
- Brute-force attacks: Brute-force attacks are rarer; they’re the most primitive form of attack, with hackers (or their software) just guessing passwords until they get in.
- Man-in-the-middle attacks: With man-in-the-middle attacks, hackers intercept packets of data traveling between a sender and receiver and try to decipher login credentials.
- Physical access: Through a lost or stolen phone that they’ve gained access to.
- Programming-based hacking: Programming-based hacking isn’t something you’ll see too much of. It requires a fair amount of skill and involves an experienced programmer finding weaknesses in the system, entering and granting themselves administrative privilege.
Preventing your phone from being hacked
Once you’ve had it happen once, one of the things you’ll want to do is prevent it from ever happening again. There are some steps you can follow to reduce the risk of a breach.
- Downloading antivirus software: You can rely on good antivirus software to continually scan your phone for malware and threats. Android phones have more vulnerabilities, so you should consider antivirus software. iPhones don’t require antivirus, but you should avoid compromising their innate security (for example, by not jailbreaking phones).
- Use a VPN: Using a virtual private network (VPN), particularly when surfing on public networks, can help you stay private and secure. VPNs can also stop DDoS attacks.
- Jailbreaking: If you jailbreak your phone, you have more control, but you lose a lot of built-in security features, including malware scans. You shouldn’t jailbreak your iPhone.
- Phishing scams: Perhaps you’ve got an email from an unrecognizable source, or you’re being directed to a site that doesn’t look quite right. Phishing scams take many forms but usually involve a fake site (possibly purporting to be Paypal, Facebook, or similar) being sent for you to sign in to (with your actual log in). Don’t click unfamiliar links, and be sure to always go directly to the website you want.
- Encryption: Only use sites that use end-to-end encryption where possible. Ideally, look for 245-bit AES.
- Charging stations: Only use charging stations that you trust – public charging stations may be convenient, but they carry a level of risk, such as someone ”juice jacking” your phone’s data via a USB drive. Hackers can access your data via the phone’s data drive. Where possible, only use an AC outlet. If you c data blocker or charge only adapter.
- Set up passcodes: You should set up passwords to increase your phone’s security. You also have additional options such as Face ID for Apple products.
- Open ‘Settings’
- Select ‘Face ID and Passcode’
- Set a six-digit passcode
- Turn passcode ‘On’
- Open ‘Settings’
- Select ‘Security’
- Click ‘Screen Lock’
- Go to ‘Standard locks’
- Open ‘Password’
- Set your four-digit passcode
Secure passwords: When you make a new password, you should remember to make it a strong one with numbers, different characters, and upper/lowercase letters. You can also use a password manager or encrypted vaults for your passwords.
If you have a smartphone, you should have a plan for what you’ll do if you’re hacked. With the correct settings and a good plan, you can guard against most attacks. The most important part of this is setting up a good password and not clicking any links sent to you by someone you don’t trust.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Officer Banta.
Officer Banta is the official SecurityNerd home security and safety expert. A member of the Biloxi Police Department for over 24 years, Officer Banta reviews all articles before lending his stamp of approval. Click here for more information on Officer Banta and the rest of our team.