How to Know if Your Phone Is Hacked (and How You Can Avoid It)
Did you know that we spend more than 8 years of our life just looking at our phones?
That’s right — mobile phones have become that essential in our daily lives. Almost 4 billion people own a smartphone, making them a tasty meal for hackers, regardless of whether it’s an Android or an iPhone.
New hacking techniques emerge every year, putting more users and businesses at security risks. For this reason, we’ve rounded up a list of the most common and easily identified warning signs that you can look for to know if your Android or iPhone is hacked.
We’ll also talk about how hackers compromise your phone and what you can do to protect your phone from harmful threats.
Signs Your Phone Might Be Hacked
It isn’t difficult to notice if there’s something wrong with your phone. While the problem could be tech-related, it could also mean that your phone is hacked, which is a serious problem — especially if you use your phone to run your WordPress website, for instance.
Let’s discuss the most common warning signs that you should look for.
Changes in Performance
An unusual drop in your phone’s performance — especially if it isn’t old — is one of the most common signs that it might be hacked.
1. Phone Is Slowing Down
If you have enough space in your memory and the latest software update, but your phone is sluggish, there’s a chance that it’s been breached by malware or another hacking method.
Malware works in the background, consuming your phone’s processing power and resources, which results in noticeably slower performance.
2. Unusual or Rapid Battery Changes
Hacked phones tend to experience fast battery drain. If a hacker has planted a malicious code or app on your phone, it will cause performance issues, and your battery will run out faster than usual.
It’s important to note that rapid battery drain could also result from several apps or games running in the background. (Yes, gaming for a long time drains your battery life!)
Therefore, you should first check that no apps are running in the background. You need to also restrict battery consumption for the apps on your phone before immediately assuming that it’s been hacked.
3. Phone Overheats
Your phone tends to heat up if you’re using it excessively, such as watching movies and videos or playing games for a prolonged time.
However, if you aren’t actively using your phone and it feels oddly hot, this could signify the phone may be compromised by malicious activity and that someone else is using it.
4. Higher Data Consumption/Bill Charges
It’s time to pay your phone bill, but you’re hit with a higher bill than what you usually pay. When you check, you notice unknown, excessive data usage, or other bill charges.
This is an essential warning that your phone might be hacked, usually by spyware.
In such cases, a hacker uses the victim’s phone to make calls, collect and transfer data, send texts, or even make purchases.
5. Apps Crashing Randomly
It’s normal for an app to crash or fail to load correctly on your Android or iPhone. It means that there’s a fault in the app itself.
However, if you find multiple apps crashing randomly or unable to load, it’s a sign that there’s harmful software or code on your phone that’s interrupting it from functioning normally.
6. Email Delivery Failures
Another telltale sign that a hacker has breached your phone has unusual activities in your email account.
In such an event, you’ll receive notifications informing you that your email failed to be delivered. This implies that your account is being used for spamming activities.
Other mysterious changes include having emails marked as read (not by you) and getting alerts of suspicious sign-ins to your account.
7. Lower Quality of Screenshots
If your phone has excellent camera quality, but you suddenly find that the screenshots you take are of lower quality, you could be a victim of a poor form of keylogger attack.
Keylogger is spyware that allows hackers to eavesdrop on your phone and steal data by recording your keystrokes.
You may also find strange behaviors or unusual activities on your iPhone or Android that you’re sure you didn’t do. If you experience more than one of the following, your phone is probably hacked.
1. Strange Apps on Phone
It’s normal to have apps pre-installed on your phone by the manufacturer or your service provider or to see new apps after a software update.
On the other hand, when a phone is hacked, you might find apps that you don’t recognize at all, no matter how trustworthy they may look. This includes software such as antivirus apps and phone cleaning apps. Hackers install such apps on the victim’s phone to spy on them and steal information.
If you find an app that you don’t remember downloading or having on your phone, you should use a different device and check that it’s safe on the internet.
2. Weird Pop-Ups
If your phone is infected with malware, you’ll start seeing X-rated or flashy pop-ups or ads. These pop-ups will ask you to carry out certain actions through infected links. It’s important not to click on those suspicious links to avoid data leaks and further damage.
3. Unfamiliar Activity in Call or Text
Types of malware such as phishing can infect your Android or iPhone through SMS text messages. Hackers usually send an SMS with an infected link that allows them to access your phone.
If you notice SMSs or calls that you didn’t make, or if any of your contacts receive calls or texts from you that you don’t recognize, your phone is most likely hacked.
4. Unfamiliar Activity on Social Media
Even though social media platforms do their best to secure their users’ accounts from hacking attempts, lots and lots of accounts are still compromised every year.
When a hacker infiltrates your phone, you might notice strange activities with your social media accounts, such as multiple login attempts and changes in your credentials (username and password).
5. Phone Tries to Access Unsecured Websites
Being connected to a secure network has its merits. If the network is set to allow and block specific websites, you’ll receive notifications when your phone attempts to access suspicious websites, a telltale sign that it’s been compromised.
6. Camera Issues
While you’re busy capturing your favorite moments with your phone camera, there’s a hacker somewhere waiting to capture the opportunity to hack into your iPhone or Android through the camera.
Some signs can tell if your phone is being remotely controlled through your camera. For instance, you might find photos or videos on your phone that you don’t remember taking. You should always watch for your camera flash if it turns on for no reason and your phone starts getting hot.
7. Inability to Turn Off Your Phone
One more sign that your phone is probably hacked is struggling with turning it off. Some types of malware and spyware prevent your phone from shutting down, allowing hackers to spy on you at all times.
How Your Phone Can Be Hacked
There are several ways your phone can be hacked and multiple vulnerabilities cybercriminals use to gain access to your device. Some methods are more common than others, so you must always be on the lookout, as it can happen when least expected.
Let’s discuss the most common ways your phone can be hacked.
1. Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks
Some hackers create a public network to attract vulnerable users to connect to them and access their phones. It doesn’t stop there. Even your home network can be a gateway if you have a weak password or frequently change your network password.
2. Downloaded Malicious Apps
A malicious app will never appear malicious. Its spying capabilities are usually hidden within a normal-looking app that seems to have a typical purpose (e.g. games, camera filters, productivity apps, etc.). The hacker will convince you to install the app on your phone and will have full access to your phone once done.
The 2 most common types of malicious apps used by hackers are spyware and stalkerware.
Spyware is used to access information on your phone, such as online activities and personal information. On the other hand, stalkerware is used to track your location, movements, calls, and messages.
3. Clicked on Malicious Links
Malicious links are a much easier way than malicious apps to hack your phone as all that is required from the hacker is to send you a link, and once you click on that link, they’ll have full access to your phone and all its contents.
These links can be either sent via regular texts or any other messaging apps (or apps that have a messaging service in them) on your phone, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Like computers, malicious links can also be hidden within websites and appear as ads or links to other services’ websites.
4. SIM Swap
This method has become quite popular recently. The hacker knows enough information about you to call your service provider, impersonating you and convincing them that your number needs to be swapped to a different SIM card.
With the recent introduction of two-factor authentication (2FA), where a verification text must be sent to your phone to access services, all these texts will now be sent to the hacker instead of you.
How to Unhack Your Phone
If any of the above methods has hacked your phone, don’t throw it overboard. You can still save it and regain control.
Here are a few simple methods you can use to un-hack your phone without requiring an expert.
1. Remove Malware
Any malware on your phone can easily be removed by downloading a reliable antimalware app. There are numerous apps available for that purpose, some of which cover several different types of security threats, and others are made specifically for malware.
Choose the right app for you and try to avoid unknown names as they may end up being malicious apps themselves. Once the app is installed, you can start using it to scan and remove all malware from your phone.
2. Delete Suspicious Apps
In the time leading up to the moment you discover your phone is hacked, check all the newly installed apps on your phone. If you find any app that you haven’t installed yourself, delete it instantly.
If any of the apps you have installed yourself are non-critical or are from suspicious sources (company names that aren’t well known), delete them completely from your phone.
3. Change Passwords
Start from your phone password itself and go through all the major apps that require a password. The hacker may have accessed some of these apps, changed their passwords, and logged them out of the apps.
Don’t stop there. It’s also preferable to change the password you use to access the phone’s OS (e.g. Google/Apple account credentials) if the hacker found a way to gain access to these accounts.
4. Reset Phone
All smartphones have the option to reset the phone back to its default factory state. In other words, with a single click, you can wipe your entire phone’s memory, settings, apps installed after buying the phone, etc.
However, before doing so, ensure that the above steps you took failed to un-hack your phone. Secondly, make sure you have a backup of your phone kept in cloud storage to restore your phone after the reset and not lose any valuable data.
How to Protect Your Phone from Being Hacked
Do you know the saying “better safe than sorry”? It’s better to take all the precautionary actions to secure your phone against unwanted intrusions than to try and fix the damage caused by them.
These few simple actions can save you from a lot of unwanted hassle if your phone gets hacked.
1. Keep Phone Password-Protected
As phones become more and more technologically advanced, their security improves. All smartphones today can be protected using a password that you create and use to unlock your screen.
Many phones took this security a little further with the introduction of fingerprint and facial recognition. That’s why it’s always better to secure your phone using any of these methods to keep it protected against unwanted hackers if available on your phone.
However, if your phone only relies on a password, try to create a strong enough password for any hacker to figure out but not too complex that you end up forgetting it and getting locked out of your phone.
2. Use Secure App to Store Sensitive Information
Sensitive information on your phone can be passwords, photos, documents, or any other private content that you prefer to keep for yourself. This is why secure apps such as a password manager, phone encryption app, and several others can keep your phone and all its contents challenging to access.
3. Always Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Many important online services such as online banking, emails, online shopping, and more use 2FA to protect you against any unauthorized login attempts made to your accounts.
How it works is that to access your account, a verification text is sent to your phone number registered with the account to confirm your identity. Some services offer this security measure optionally, but others apply it mandatorily. If you are asked, go for it to secure further your phone and all accounts related to it.
4. Avoid Public Wi-Fi
As previously mentioned, public Wi-Fi networks can be a perfect door for hackers to access your phone. If it’s a must to connect to the internet while outside, use your mobile data. It may be a little more costly, but it’s much safer.
If this is not a possibility, download a reliable VPN and connect to the public network. This way, you’ll hide your online identity and make it difficult to be visible to nearby hackers.
5. Turn Off Bluetooth When Not In Use
With the advancement of messaging apps, Bluetooth has become a rare method for sending malicious content. However, it’s still used, and your phone can still be vulnerable.
This is why if you’re not connected to any other Bluetooth devices (AirPods, car phone, etc.), then it’s always better to keep your Bluetooth switched off. In addition to it being safer, it saves your battery from draining unnecessarily.
6. Keep Phone Software and Apps Up to Date
The older your phone’s software version is (especially if it’s more than 2 years old), the bigger the risk of getting hacked.
Old software versions don’t get the latest security updates. That’s why it’s important to make sure to update your phone’s software regularly to receive the latest security features and fixes.
Be sure to also frequently update the apps installed on your phone. Additionally, it’s recommended to remove the apps that you don’t use at all. Not only will this free some space on your phone, but it will also help in keeping it secure.
7. Lock Individual Apps
Locking specific apps that contain personal information is a perfect way to keep your phone safe from prying eyes.
Some Android phones have a built-in app locking feature through a passcode or fingerprint. There are also third-party apps on Google Play, such as AppLock that allows you to restrict access to certain apps without a password or fingerprint.
Unlike Android, iPhone doesn’t give users much room for third-party apps. So, you might struggle a little to lock individual apps.
However, some apps on iPhone can be locked, such as the Notes app. If you want to keep a certain Note private, you can lock it with a passcode, fingerprint, or face ID.
8. Regularly Monitor Phone for Signs
We’re not suggesting that you get paranoid about keeping your phone safe from hackers, but it’s wise to look out for hacking signs like the ones we’ve discussed above now and then.
Like with monitoring websites, by regularly monitoring your phone’s behavior, you’ll be able to fish out any malware or security breach sooner before it becomes challenging to deal with it.
9. Activate Find My Phone Feature
Almost everyone has a habit of misplacing things. How many times have you forgotten where you left your phone? While it’s safer to lose your phone at home snuggling between the couch cushions, it’s a big problem if you lose your phone in public.
Both iPhones and Android phones have an excellent feature to find your phone when you’ve lost track of it. It’s called Find My iPhone in iPhones, and Google’s Find My Device in Android. Each will help you locate your lost device, lock it, or even wipe it out entirely if it’s lost or stolen to safeguard your stored data from getting compromised.
Tips for Fixing a Hacked iPhone
Although iPhone operates on a closed system (iOS) and offers more privacy than Android, it’s still possible to hack it.
We’ve rounded up a few tweaks that you can do to further protect your iPhone from hacking attempts.
- Remove widgets and notification settings from lock-screen: Notifications such as texts and widgets can display sensitive data that strangers shouldn’t know about.
- Choose “Sign in with Apple”: This is a handy feature for when you want to create an account online instead of using your email address that would allow third parties to associate your data with it.
Sign in with Apple generates a random email address that you can hide behind to forward your email address to protect your data from getting compromised.
- Turn off ad tracking: Companies use this feature to show you personalized ads based on your preferences, enabling them to collect data about you. You can disable this feature to avoid such apps from collecting or selling your data, or you can opt for a browser that prioritizes your anonymity.
- Disable email tracking: This applies if you use Apple’s Mail app. Since some emails can give the sender an idea about your location, Apple can block some of this information by disabling mail tracking.
Tips for Fixing a Hacked Android Phone
If you own an Android phone, there are a few things that you should know to protect your phone from getting breached.
Here are our top tips:
- Enable Smart Lock: This feature locks your phone automatically based on its location. For instance, you have the option to keep the phone unlocked if you’re carrying it. However, it locks itself automatically when you leave it
- Be careful of what you download: Unlike iOS, Android is an open-source operating system, making it more vulnerable to malicious activities. Therefore, we strongly advise that you download your apps from Google Play and ensure that they’re verified by Google Play Protect.
- Android Enterprise Essentials: Google offers this service to manage your device, especially if you use Android OS for business. Android Enterprise Essentials comes packed with security features such as always-on malware protection and screen lock enforcement.
- Use Safe Browsing: Google Chrome has a Safe Browsing mode that warns you before accessing a suspicious website, reducing the risks of getting hacked by malware. One of the signs that the website you’re about to visit is secure is that it’s SSL-protected.
No matter how cautious one can be, hackers always invent new ways to conduct malicious schemes to breach your phone — iPhone or Android.
Nevertheless, by watching out for warning signs and using our suggested security tips, you’ll be able to protect your phone from being hacked and secure your online business the best you can.
Leave a comment to let us know if you have more tips to help others keep their phones safe from hackers. And be sure to check out our tips on staying safe while working from home.
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