If you see suspicious things happening on your phone, like a new app you didn’t install or charges on your bill that don’t make sense, it’s possible that it’s been hacked.
Some of the most common methods hackers can use to hack your phone are:
- Phishing: Here, a hacker lures you into clicking one of their malicious links. You can encounter such links, especially in an email attachment, a fake SMS text message, or when clicking an ad/popup.
- Social engineering: Another common method hackers use is social engineering, which mainly exploits the human aspect. They manipulate our psychology/ emotion to get the required information for the attack. It could be as simple as asking for a password straight up for Wi-Fi or an OTP code.
- Keylogger: Hackers can use keylogger software to track and record every keystroke you type, including account login credentials. Such programs get into your devices through malicious apps or any other form of malware.
- Ransomware: Ransomware is by far the most lethal and scary one, which can encrypt all your phone contents, and only the hacker can decrypt them for you.
In the case of ransomware, you will most likely get a display message such as “Your files are encrypted” or such, which makes it evident that your phone has been hacked. But, most of the time, hackers try to conceal their activities and secretly keep stealing your information.
Nonetheless, there are still some subtle signs that your phone is likely hacked or infected with malware.
Major Signs and Symptoms
Unknown Apps Installed
Whenever you find an app that you don’t remember using or even installing, your phone is probably hacked. Except for the apps that come pre-installed on your device, every new app appears only after you manually install them. You can view the list of all the apps on your Android device by going to Settings > Apps.
If you see any unrecognized apps, you shouldn’t open them and consider uninstalling them immediately for your safety.
Unknown Payments Made From Your Phone
The major reason someone would try to hack your phone is for financial benefit. So, if you find any unknown purchase made from your phone, check the SMS alerts sent by your digital wallet or banking app. Furthermore, you can also download the entire list of your financial statements to review all your purchases.
You Can’t Access the Phone’s Contents
If you get a message such as “Your phone is locked” or similar, your phone is probably hacked. In these cases, you cannot access your files, media, or documents and could be asked for a ransom to retrieve them. These are special types of malware called ransomware and are hard to get rid of. Also, there’s no guarantee that you will get your files back even if you pay the ransom.
Significant Performance Drop
A phone’s performance drops gradually after a certain point in time. However, it isn’t normal if the performance drops significantly and your phone suddenly becomes too sluggish.
Similarly, your phone can heat up abnormally even when you don’t seem to have any open applications, and the battery drains too quickly. Also, your phone may behave erratically and restart multiple times for no reason.
All the signs above indicate that a background process, most likely a virus/malware, is running in the background, hogging up your memory and taking control of your phone.
Unknown Text Messages Sent From Your Device
Sometimes your call history looks different, and unknown phone numbers exist without your knowledge, even when you haven’t actively used your phone. Also, some messages have been deleted, or there are unknown text messages. In these cases, your phone might have been in the control of the attackers. Or the text message could be malicious.
These days, scammers use this tactic to request money from people on your contact list, impersonating you when in reality, the money is being transferred to them.
Ads Popping Up
While you can encounter some ads when using the Internet, you may sometimes get lots of irrelevant ads and popups. These don’t necessarily mean your phone is hacked, but your phone might be infected with adware. This can happen when you click malicious ads or install a third-party app from an untrusted developer or external source.
Passwords Not Working
In some cases, you are logged out of any account automatically on your mobile phone. And when you try to log in, you keep getting an error message like “Incorrect password” even though you entered the correct one.
If your password has been compromised, your phone might be hacked, and its passwords might have even been leaked online by hackers.
Unusual Data Traffic
If you ever feel like your mobile data is being consumed more than usual, a third person might be using them to secretly upload your private information to their server. In such cases, your phone has abnormally high data consumption even when you haven’t utilized any data.
On Android devices, you can view the data usage graphs through the Settings app and check if the data traffic is unusual.
How to Prevent a Phone From Getting Hacked?
Instead of being a victim of a possible scam or hack, you should try to avoid/prevent them by being aware of the signs like the above. To prevent such incidents, you can do the following things.
Use a Strong Password
Passwords are the key component when it comes to your device security. Whether it be your lock screen or your Google Account, the perpetrator can do severe harm if they get their hands on the passwords.
Therefore, you should always use a strong password that contains a combination of all kinds of characters; symbols, letters, numbers, etc. Also, consider using a longer password as it can withstand most brute-force attacks than a shorter one. To easily manage passwords, consider using a password manager.
On the other hand, don’t use the same password for every site you sign up for. It’s because if one of the passwords gets breached, others can also get compromised.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
While a strong password is a great way of keeping your device safe from hackers, you should also consider turning on two-factor authentication. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring you to provide multiple passwords/information before you can finally log in to the account.
Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is one of the most exploited methods used by cybercriminals to hack your smartphones. Such Wi-Fi connections are generally unencrypted and thus easier for them to hack and exploit.
Hence, you should avoid using public Wi-Fi, and in case of emergency, access the Internet through a VPN for a secure connection. Also, refrain from performing any financial transactions while using such Wi-Fi.
Don’t Click Links From Unknown Sources
Most scammers use a technique known as a phishing attack to get people into clicking malicious links. According to Dataprot, “Phishing targets open 70% of phishing emails they receive.”
And once you click such links, it will redirect you to a fake website appearing as if they are from an official source. Such websites have a similar layout to the official site, but you can determine if they are fake by looking at their URLs.
By chance, if you enter your credentials into it, they are captured by the attackers. Hence, you should never click such links.
Download Apps from Official Download Stores
Another common way a hacker can get his hands on your device is when you install malicious apps from an external source. Therefore, you should only install apps from the official Play Store/ App Store.
On the other hand, some of such apps still manage to get through, so consider the customer reviews/comments about the app before installing.
Sign Out of Your Accounts When Not Active
If you have a habit of leaving your phone unlocked, other people can easily access its contents. So, consider signing out of your social media account when not in use. Or, at least secure your phone with a password/PIN to prevent it.
Keep Your Phone Up to Date
If your phone is running on an older version or has an outdated app, it may contain several bugs and issues which can be exploited by the bad guys. Such weaknesses are even circulated among illegal hacker forums, which means phones with older OS are easy prey for them.
Phone manufacturers and app developers constantly release newer versions of the app to fix the device’s previous vulnerabilities with the latest security patch. Therefore, you should always keep your phone and the apps updated to avoid such risks.
Don’t Make Unauthorized Changes to the Device
While some people root their Android phone for further customization, it isn’t recommended. Doing so voids the warranty, and you may not get any security updates for the device, which makes you vulnerable to malicious exploits.
Don’t Save Your Passwords on a Browser
Although saving passwords and enabling autofill on a browser is easier, it’s an unsafe practice. Any person, not necessarily a hacker, with physical access to your phone can easily log into websites and view your personal information.
What to Do if Your Phone is Hacked?
You should always try to avoid getting into situations where your phone gets compromised in the first place. However, if you somehow fall into the trap and suspect your phone is hacked, you should consider doing the following things.
Change Your Password(s)
In case any of your accounts are breached, you should immediately change all their passwords. And, if the Google account is compromised on your Android device and you cannot change your password, you can reach out to Google Support.
Run an Antivirus Scan
If your phone is hacked, it most likely contains malware. Therefore, install a reliable antivirus app and use it to scan and remove all the potentially harmful software or viruses on your phone.
Reset Your Phone
Resetting your phone clears all your phone contents and restores it to its initial configuration. All the malware or viruses are also wiped off along the process. However, consider backing up your files and other contents before doing so.
Contact Your Financial Institution
The moment you notice any suspicious activity on your phone, especially if you get a notification of an unknown purchase, you should immediately contact your financial institution. Then, ask them to freeze your accounts so that you can prevent further financial losses.