Once upon a time, people went to banks for financial transactions, stores for shopping, and bars to chat. Technology put all these activities in a crucible and replaced them with smartphones. Today, our phones carry all our private information in one place. Unfortunately, this makes mobile phones the perfect target for hackers.
Phone hackers compromise their victims’ identity or privacy and steal information from them. Most people do not even notice they have been hacked unless the hacker holds their device for ransom. Some people might notice that their device has been compromised, but hackers continue to develop better hacking tools, making it difficult for people to notice their activities.
As a phone user, you can fall prey to any cyber-attacks if you do not follow best practices for cybersecurity. But first, you need a rudimentary knowledge of phone hacks. Then you will understand what to do if someone hacks your phone.
The short answer is yes, someone can hack your phone. A phone hack happens when a person gains forceful access to another person’s phone or secures the ability to spy on its communications. A hacker can do different things, from taking complete control over a phone to simply listening to conversations over an unsecured internet connection. They can also steal phones and hack them before the owner finds the stolen phone.
All phones, whether iPhone or Android, can get hacked. Thus, no matter what type of phone you use, you should be able to identify when it has been compromised and do something about it.
As technology has continually evolved, hackers can now access even the best-designed phones and their software. But how? Here are five ways a hacker can attack your phone.
Signaling System 7 (SS7) is one of the earliest communication protocols. It connects mobile networks and facilitates services like international roaming and call forwarding. First developed in 1975, the protocol has been around for decades. When technology is that old, hackers will eventually learn to bypass its security.
Hackers who use SS7 can track any mobile phone on the planet and intercept any call or text message communications it exchanges. The only information the hackers need is a telephone number.
For mobile phones to work, they must connect to a carrier’s cell tower - using their unique IMSI number. However, cell towers do not need to provide special keys when connecting to mobile phones.
Using this knowledge, hackers have created devices called IMSI-catchers. These devices create false signals that mimic cell towers. When a cell phone connects to the fake tower, the hacker relays the information and harvests the unencrypted content.
Also called malicious software, malware refers to any application or file that could harm the phone’s user. Malware could be a phone virus or worm, and hackers can use them to steal, decrypt, or delete private data. Hackers can also use malware to hijack a phone’s functions or monitor its user’s activity.
Most hackers try to trick users into downloading shady software from third-party stores to get malware on phones. If successful, they can get all kinds of information, ranging from your contacts and browsing history to your financial details (if you store them on your phone).
These days, you can find free Wi-Fi wherever you go. From restaurants to hotels, airports, and bars, it’s pretty common to find free Wi-Fi and connect to it without a second thought. But think again. Who would leave their hotspot on for all and sundry to join without ulterior motives? Connecting to free Wi-Fi leaves your phone very vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Cyber-criminals often prey on people seeking free Wi-Fi by setting up “free” connections next to hotels or cafes. Knowing that the establishment also offers Wi-Fi, the hackers give their predatory connection a similar name - luring unsuspecting victims to connect. Once the victim connects, the hacker can enter their device and access any unencrypted emails or information it holds.
USB cables do more than just charge phones, which most people realize when they plug their phones into their computers. By connecting your phone to a computer, you allow both devices to share data. Doing this can be helpful if you need to transfer files quickly. However, hackers can also extract data from your phone in this manner.
Many phone users go around looking for places to charge their phones for free and will sometimes plug their phones into a random computer “for a few minutes.” In that time, a hacker can upload malware or spyware to your device. Once they install their malware, they can control your device and get all the information they want.
If your device starts to act in unexpected and unfamiliar ways, it could mean that a hacker has attacked it. Here are some common signs of a phone hack:
If your phone exhibits any of the above signs, you could be hacked. However, it could be that your device is old and has technical problems. If you want to be sure, the best thing you can do is download an anti-malware app to scan your phone.
Several anti-malware apps exist for iOS and Android users, including McAfee, Norton, Kaspersky, and Certo AntiSpy. Phone owners use these apps to protect their devices from malware and other threats. Once you install one of them, you can scan your phone and confirm whether or not a hacker has gotten to your phone. If the scan is positive, then you can take steps to remove the hacker from your phone. Below, we cover the steps to take to remove a hacker from your phone.
Once you realize a hacker is in your phone, you must immediately take steps to get them out. However, depending on the device you use, the stages might be different. Below, we cover the steps for reclaiming your iPhone or Android device from a hacker’s grip.
If your phone is acting strange, look through it for any apps you don’t remember installing. If you find any apps that you don’t recognize, they could be stealing your phone’s processing power and sending your data to a hacker. The smartest thing to do, in this situation, is to uninstall the app - especially if you don’t recognize or remember downloading it. It's possible that the hacker found your device by chance, but it's also possible that you were the victim of an Apple customer service scam resulting in a hack.
Before an app can perform any functions on your phone, it must have appropriate permission. You can check what permissions your apps have on your phone, which helps discover any malware stealing your data. To view the app permissions on your iPhone, tap Settings and enter Privacy. From there, you can see each feature on your phone and check which app is allowed to use it. You can also take away the app’s permissions if necessary.
In most cases, updating your iPhone will usually eliminate any commercial spyware running on it. To update your iPhone, go to its Settings, tap General, and then Software Update. Your phone will check for any available updates and then provide instructions for you to install them.
Although updating your iPhone will remove most commercially available malware, you may not be able to access one if your phone is already running the latest version of iOS. In that case, performing a factory reset might be your best bet. Performing a factory reset will wipe your iPhone completely, so remember to back up important data beforehand. To perform a factory reset, go to your phone’s Settings, tap on General, and reset.
Then, tap “Erase all content and settings” and choose either “Backup and erase” or “Erase now” to begin the process. First, confirm by typing your phone’s passcode. Next, tap “Erase iPhone” and enter your Apple ID account password. Your iPhone will perform a full reset after this. Once the reset is complete, your device will return to its original state, free from any hacker’s influence.
Just like an iPhone user, you need to look through your Android device for apps that you don’t remember installing and delete them at once. Remember that sometimes, hackers disguise malware to look legitimate or harmless.
As with the iPhone, you should go through your phone’s permissions to see which apps may have unnecessary permissions. To check the permissions on your Android device, go to its Settings and tap “Apps” or “Manage Apps.” Then, tap App Permissions and check each permission to see which apps have access and remove them accordingly.
Typically, Android phone makers pre-package security apps with their devices to enable users to deal with malware without installing other apps.
For Android phones that do not come with native antivirus apps, Google makes Google Play Protect available as a built-in alternative. Android users can activate Play Protect and use it to scan their device’s apps for legitimacy.
To activate Google Play Protect, go to your phone’s Settings, tap Google > Security > Play Protect. Then tap Turn On and refresh to scan your phone.
If you want an antivirus that offers more features than Google Play Protect, you can download a third-party antivirus app from the Play store. Luckily, many popular antivirus apps for Android exist.
Some antivirus apps are free, while others require a subscription payment. However, these apps will scan all the apps on your phone and perform deep checks in your system files to find other insidious threats.
As with iOS, a factory reset is the most effective and complete way to get a hacker off your phone. If you use an Android device and want to be entirely sure that it’s hacker-free, your best bet is to wipe everything clean and start over.
If you choose to do a factory reset, remember to back up all your important information, text messages, or media like pictures and videos. To carry out a factory reset, visit your phone’s Settings app. However, Android devices differ, so you will need to confirm the process for your model.
Phone hacking has become commonplace as the world has become more digitized and connected. Hacking methods continue to evolve, so phone users must remain cautious of hackers’ activities. You now know how to remove a hacker from your phone. But, the best way to keep it safe is to protect it from being hacked in the first place.
You can protect your phone by refusing to download sketchy or unreputable apps and only connecting to trusted Wi-Fi connections. Another way to keep hackers away from your phone is by keeping your phone with you and setting a complex password on all apps and services. You don’t have to worry about all the complex passwords you set up if you use a reputable password manager.