In today’s digital world, we rely on our mobile devices to navigate much of our daily lives. Beyond making calls and sending text messages, we use our phones for online shopping, banking, work, personal reminders, photos, videos, and so much more.
While this technology offers great possibilities and convenience, it also can put your personal data at risk. Phones are lucrative targets of attacks because they hold so much valuable information stored in a single place, such as private or financial information. Luckily, there are key signs you can look out for — and steps you can take — to protect your device.
The basics of phone hacking
Phone hacking is when someone gains unauthorized access to your device or its communications. For example, some will hack into phones to listen in on calls. Others may use malware to read text messages or steal payment details and sensitive information.
While hacking doesn’t just happen to smartphones, phones are our trusted devices, which means they have access to some of our most valuable information and accounts. But if you know how to spot a phone hack, you could help protect your smartphone and other devices, such as tablets.
Phone hacking today
Today, there are countless threats to your mobile device and the data it holds. Because smartphones are so common, hackers have evolved the way they try to access information.
Here are a few of the ways hackers will try to hack into your smartphone:
- Text messages: It’s possible for malware and viruses to be distributed via text message. Malware is short for “malicious software,” and once installed, malware can compromise smartphones and tablets and gather important data that is stored and shared on the device.
- Malicious software can be sent to you as a link included in a text message. These texts usually include extremely convincing information, followed by a link that encourages you to click on it. For example, it might look like a message from your bank saying “there has been an update to your account. Click here to view.” If you do click, the link might direct you to a webpage encouraging you to download software that’s really a form of malware.
- Unsafe applications: Hackers can also include malicious code within applications — including popular looking apps like flashlight apps, or cryptocurrency applications. If a person downloads an application that contains malware, the application may be able to perform a variety of actions without their knowledge or consent in an attempt to steal important elements of data, including a person’s personal information, such as financial data, passwords, and contacts.
- Social media scams: Phishing attacks can be distributed via social media channels. Sometimes, social media messages, ads, or posts will contain an unsafe link. You may receive a message from an unknown account that contains a link and entices you to click on it. Be careful to only add friends on your social media that you know, and never click on a link sent by a stranger.
- Emails: A phishing email may come in the form of a scam message about your finances, or a fake receipt for a product you never purchased. Bad actors often deploy phishing emails in an attempt to gain access to personal information and these messages are designed to get you to click on a link or download malware so you can remove charges or learn more about the notice. Unfortunately, these messages can often look legitimate and may enable hackers to steal personal or financial information.
How to know if your phone is hacked
Is my phone hacked? Has your phone been acting strangely? Maybe you’ve noticed mysterious apps, or your battery is draining more quickly than usual. While these activities don’t always mean your phone is at risk, they could be important signs that your device is compromised.
If you’re unsure whether your phone has been hacked, there are some key signs to look out for:
- It’s slower than usual: It’s normal for smartphones to slow down over time, but this shouldn’t happen overnight. If you notice your phone is significantly slower than usual, it is possible you may have malware on your phone. When malicious programs are downloaded to your phone, they may use additional processing power, which can slow down your device.
- Pop-up ads are showing up: It’s possible for mobile malware and viruses (often referred to as “adware”) to hide behind annoying pop-up ads. While pop-up ads are sometimes normal when browsing online, unwanted ads might show up even when you're visiting a trusted site or on apps where they don’t normally appear. If you notice more pop-up ads than usual, this could be a sign of a virus running in the background.
- Your battery is draining faster: If your battery abruptly starts to drain faster than usual, that might be a sign of a hack. Batteries will sometimes start to drain after a major update or if your phone is old, but that shouldn’t happen suddenly. Malware and spyware programs run in the background while you aren’t actively using your phone, which can decrease your battery life. If you’re an iPhone or Android user, you can check your battery usage in your settings to see how much battery power the apps and services on your device use. This can let you know if there’s unknown programs running in the background.
- Unusual activity on accounts linked to phone: If you receive an alert about suspicious activity related to one of your online accounts linked to your phone, it could be a sign that your account or device is at risk. Unusual activity can include hackers using your social media accounts to send strange messages or posting content on your profile that contain malicious links.
There are other signs of a hacked phone, such as reduced screenshot quality, unusually high data usage, and apps crashing randomly. If you notice any of these signs, you can take immediate steps to protect your device by downloading a security tool that can scan your device for risks and remediate threats.
How do phones get hacked?
As technology advances, the methods hackers use to break into phones also becomes more sophisticated. As a smartphone user, understanding some of these methods can help you stay protected against possible threats. Here are some ways that phones get hacked:
- False advertisements: One way hackers try to gain access to phones is by presenting users with fake ads encouraging them to click on a link. It is common for these advertisements to include an alert or warning message meant to scare the phone user and get them to act quickly. If a mobile user clicks on a link in a false advertisement, they may be prompted to download malware that infects their device and steals sensitive information.
- Malware: Distributing malware within applications is another method hackers use to compromise devices. For example, hackers create “free apps” that offer services like virus protection or video editing. While the services are free, once downloaded, these apps have the potential to infect your device in the background and gain access to your passwords, text messages, and other data. Malware can be disguised as legitimate looking apps, so be careful when downloading apps to your device, and take the time to review the app’s ratings and user reviews to better understand if the app is coming from a trusted source.
- Public Wi-Fi: While public Wi-Fi offers a convenient way to stay connected when you’re out at restaurants, events, and other public spaces, it can be a risk for phone users. If a public Wi-Fi network isn’t properly protected, hackers may be able to view and access the information you share over those public connections without actually taking control of your phone. For an added layer of protection when using public Wi-Fi, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) that will encrypt the data you send over Wi-Fi, or you can use a security tool, like Lookout Life, that will check if the network is secure and alert you if the connection is under attack or could put your data at risk.
What to do if your phone is hacked? Here are some prevention tips
If your phone is hacked, remember that there are ways you can protect yourself. As a first step, you can uninstall suspicious apps, update your passwords and set two-factor authentication to your online accounts. You can also connect with mobile device security experts who can help you remove malware and install security software to prevent the problem from happening again.
Even better, you can take steps to prevent hackers from ever entering your mobile device. Here are some prevention tips for avoiding phone hackers:
- Use anti-malware software: Installing anti-malware software is a great way to add an extra layer of defense against attackers and alert you when malware is installed on your phone.
- Manage Wi-Fi: Because it’s possible for hackers to gain access to cellphones through public Wi-Fi, as an added safety step, you can turn off Wi-Fi when it is not needed or if you’re unsure the Wi-Fi connection is safe. For many smartphones, you can do this quickly by using the drop-down menu.
- Update your phone frequently: Keeping your phone and apps updated helps keep your device safe. Phone and app updates often patch up weak points that hackers use to hack into mobile devices.
- Password manager: Keeping track of multiple unique passwords can be challenging, so many mobile phone users stick to the same one. However, having a single password for all your apps and functions makes it easier for hackers to steal data. Using a secure password manager is a great way to use many different passwords without losing track of them. Often, security software will include a password manager service that stores your passwords for you.
In addition to these methods, always remember to be careful about clicking on strange links or installing any app you don’t recognize. It is also essential to protect your physical device. While many hackers work behind the scenes, there is also the risk of someone stealing your phone and accessing data that way.
If you protect your personal information and device, you can significantly decrease the risk of losing sensitive information so you can safely use and enjoy your phone.
Protect against phone hacks with Lookout
If you are looking for the best protection for your mobile device and personal data, Lookout can help. Our product is designed to help you protect your devices and identity, so you won’t have to worry about who has access to your phone or your personal information. Lookout gives you the tools you need to protect yourself and your devices.
In addition to phone security, we have additional services to protect your identity that include:
- Data breach alerts
- Financial monitoring
- Lost wallet assistance
- $1 million identity protection
Ready to get started or learn more about our security services? Contact us today.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Can you check to see if your phone has been hacked?
If you think your phone has been hacked, you can first run security software that will scan your device for threats, alert you of risks, and help you immediately remediate problems. Identity theft tools can also monitor and automatically alert you if your personal or financial data is ever at risk and support you with identity theft insurance and expert assistance.
Can you un-hack your phone?
If you think your phone may be hacked, it’s recommended to install trusted security software that will detect risks on your device and help you eliminate threats. If you still have questions or need assistance, you can also contact a mobile security provider to get professional help.
What is the first thing you should do when you get hacked?
There are a number of key protection steps you can take if you think you have been hacked. As referenced above, you can run security software that will detect and help you remove threats on your device, and you can also contact a mobile device security team for assistance. You can also change the passwords to your online accounts, and use strong and unique passwords for every individual account.