Today, millions of people depend on upon smartphones during the course of any given day. Yet while a lot of media attention surrounds security problems associated with online desktop and laptop computers, many consumers still wrongly believe Internet-connected cell phones offer almost complete online privacy. Unfortunately, some recent developments highlight the need to take precautions against hacking even when using an iPhone. A growing number of iPhone repair issues relate to security breaches.
From email to banking, our smartphones are the main hub of our online lives. No wonder that smartphones are starting to stack up to computers as common targets for online hackers.
Signs your smartphone may have been hacked:
1. Decrease in battery life:
While a phone’s battery life unavoidably decreases over time, a smartphone that has been compromised by malware may start to display a significantly decreased lifespan. This is because the malware – or spy app – may be using up phone resources to scan the device and transmit the information back to a criminal server.
2. Sluggish performance:
Do you find your phone frequently freezing, or certain applications crashing? This could be down to malware that is overloading the phone’s resources or clashing with other applications.
You may also experience continued running of applications despite efforts to close them, or even have the smartphone itself crash and/or restart repeatedly.
3. High data usage
Another sign of a compromised phone is an unusually high data bill at the end of the month, which can come from spy apps running in the background, sending information back to its server.
4. Outgoing calls or texts you didn’t send
If you’re seeing lists of calls or texts to numbers you don’t know, be wary – these could be premium-rate numbers that malware is forcing your phone to contact; the proceeds of which land in the cyber-crim’s wallet. In this case, check your phone bill for any costs you don’t recognise.
5. Mystery pop-ups
While not all pop-ups mean your phone has been hacked, constant pop-up alerts could indicate that your phone has been infected with adware, a form of malware that forces devices to view certain pages that drive revenue through clicks. Even if a pop-up isn’t the result of a compromised phone, many may be phishing links that attempt to get users to type in sensitive info – or download more malware.
6. Unusual activity on any accounts linked to the device
If a hacker has access to your phone, they also have access to its accounts – from social media to email to various lifestyle or productivity apps. This could reveal itself in activity on your accounts, such as resetting a password, sending emails, marking unread emails that you don’t remember reading or signing up for new accounts whose verification emails land in your inbox.
How to keep your smartphone from getting hacked?
1. Set a Strong PIN
The first step in any mobile defense plan is to lock your smartphone so no one can get into it if it’s lost, stolen, or left alone for a few minutes. While it’s convenient to leave your device unlocked, the security risks far outweigh the benefit. The easiest solution for most people, if your smartphone offers it, is to use a fingerprint or face scanner to lock your device; that way it only takes a touch or a glance to get back in.
Keep in mind that those sensors can be fooled, albeit with a lot of effort and during an encounter with law enforcement, agents can compel you to open your phone if you rely on those biometric mechanisms. (In iOS 11, you can cuddle the side button and either volume button simultaneously to deactivate Touch ID and Face ID in a pinch.) If that’s at all a concern for you, stick with a trusty passcode. Use a six-digit code at minimum, or even better, a custom alphanumeric code (not your pet’s name). Unleash the full power of your keyboard! And don’t bother with unlock patterns; they’re generally not as secure as a six-character PIN.
To manage your lock screen security settings in iOS, go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode. (On an iPhone X, it’ll be Face ID & Passcode.) On Android, the wording will vary a little depending on your device, but navigate to Settings, then Lock screen and security to set your PIN.
2. Be careful of what you install:
When you install a smartphone app, you may be asked to grant it various permissions, including the ability to read your files, access your camera or listen in to your microphone. There are genuine uses for these capabilities, but they’re potentially open to abuse: think before you approve the request. That applies especially to Android users, as Google’s app-vetting process isn’t as strict as Apple’s, and there have been reports of malicious apps spending months on the Play Store before being spotted and taken down.
Android also lets you install apps from third-party sources: this allows services such as Amazon’s competing Appstore to operate, but it also provides an easy way for rogue apps to get onto your phone.
3. Beware open Wi-Fi:
We all know there’s a risk involved in using an open wireless network. But you may not realise how severe it is: anyone in the vicinity can snoop on what you’re doing online. This sort of attack demands specialist software and skills, so it’s unlikely to be a hazard in your local cafe, but it’s not a danger that can be ignored.
If you’re at all doubtful about a wireless network, don’t connect – stick with your phone’s mobile internet connection. Or use a VPN tool such as CyberGhost or TunnelBear (both available free for Android and iOS). These tools route your traffic through a private encrypted channel, so even if someone is monitoring your traffic they won’t be able to see what you’re up to.
4. Stay Updated:
You’ve probably heard this before, but you need to actually do it, so we’re going to say it again: Download software updates regularly. Update your apps, update your operating system, and even go for it with those seemingly random “update your carrier settings” notifications.
5. Avoid Third-Party App Stores:
If you’re an Android user, only download apps from the Google Play Store. Even this doesn’t completely eliminate your risk of accidentally downloading a malicious app, but it will reduce it significantly. Your iPhone, on the other hand, can’t download apps from outside of Apple’s App Store unless you jailbreak it—and if you jailbreak your iPhone, you hopefully already know the risks of downloading software from sketchy sources. While malware-ridden apps occasionally sneak by Apple’s stringent development rules, the App Store is generally a very safe place.
To further reduce your risk on both Google Play and the App Store, stick to mainstream apps with consistently high ratings and known developers. And always navigate directly to the operating system’s official storefront too, instead of following links or search engine results that could lead you to imposter pages.
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