Has Your Phone Been Hacked? Here’s How to Tell

By: Marla Keene

These days you’re likely walking around with your life in your pocket. Your phone is used for everything from taking pictures of your kids, to taking care of banking, to dealing with small work issues when you’re away from the office. When a hacker gets access to your smartphone not only do they get your passwords, they also get access to your photos, your financial accounts, and other personal information like who you’ve talked to and the places you’ve recently visited. This is all valuable information.

Hackers have a number of ways to access your phone even if they never physically put a finger on it. And yet it’s too easy to think your device is fine because it’s always been ‘safe’ in your possession. That’s why it’s important for you to know the warning signs of a problem.

How to tell if your phone has been hacked

Most hackers try to keep their nefarious activity as unnoticeable as possible so they can dig into your accounts and your data as long as possible. But if you pay attention to your device, you’ll notice something is wrong quickly and can take action to block them.

1. Strange activity on accounts linked to your device.

This is often the first symptom you have a problem. Unauthorized bank charges, weird Twitter posts you didn’t make, or emails in your history you know you didn’t send are all strong evidence of a problem. You might also see outgoing texts or calls to your contacts you didn’t make.

2. Weird pop-ups

If you’re suddenly barraged by ads on your device when you never were before, you’ve probably been infected with adware, otherwise known as malvertising. While the majority of these ads are more annoying than they are dangerous, some can lead you to malicious sites designed to dive deeper into your phone. Don’t ignore the problem.

3. An increase in data usage/shorter battery life

Subtler clues may include an increase in data usage and a decrease in your battery life. Both of these may be indicators of background programs running malicious code or some kind of malware.

4. Sluggish performance

As malware makes a home in your phone, performance will probably decrease. Your phone may begin to ‘glitch’ more often. It may also suddenly run hot as malware ramps up the demand on your phone’s RAM and CPU.

Why does this happen

Hackers can get access to your device via several pathways. Unsecured public WiFi gives these unethical technicians a chance to access information you share over the network and use it for their own benefit, including any passwords you might use. It’s also possible to be a victim of ‘phishing,’ where someone gains control of your device through a false email, text, or pop-up. Or it’s possible an infected application was installed that inadvertently gave your phone over to hackers as permissions were set.

What to do if you think your phone has been hacked

If you think your phone has a problem, your first action should be to limit exposure. Disable your phone’s GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Then use one or more pieces of mobile anti-malware software to look for the problem. Disable and remove any applications you don’t recognize. Be aware you may have to wipe the phone completely and restore it to factory settings. This is why it’s always good to back up files, to reduce the pain of a factory reset. And don’t forget to quickly contact your bank through a secondary line to block any unauthorized charges and to change those passwords.

Going forward, make sure to only install applications purchased from a trusted source. Question the permissions you give to each app; how many games really need access to your camera and microphone? Lock your device when you’re not using it so strangers can’t access your information. And consider hitting up your settings to minimize the amount of data that remains stored in your browsing history and cache.

Remember: phones are now more like a computer in your pocket than a simple communication device. We’re using them to manage our lives but we’re not protecting them like we do our computers. Meanwhile, more scams and mobile threats are emerging all the time. Make it hard on the hackers and easier on yourself by securing your phone now.

Marla Keene is a tech writer with AX Control, Inc. (https://www.axcontrol.com/) Her articles have been featured on Medium, JaxEnter, and many technical sites around the web.

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