There’s nothing worse than getting the sinking feeling that your phone might have been hacked. It’s usually pretty easy to spot the warning signs, especially if your phone has started to work more slowly than usual, you’re seeing unwanted and unrecognized pop-up ads appearing, or the battery life might seem less sprightly than it might normally be.
Add on apps crashing out of the blue, unknown calls and texts occurring, or your data usage spiraling and chances are your phone has been compromised. Similarly, even less obvious signs such as email delivery failures, unusual activity with phone-based accounts or even lower quality screenshots can all be signs of hacking going on in the background.
Hacking can occur in lots of different ways but often revolve around common cybercriminal activity such as phishing, smishing, spyware, scareware and more. Frequently, malicious apps and unsecured Wi-Fi such as services found in public domains can be the culprits to giving hackers access to your phone.
Spot a hack early
Getting in early on a hack can make a big difference on just how badly you could be affected. If hackers successfully gain a way of getting into your phone and its contents and you don't notice, the repercussions might end up being very serious. Personal information could be stolen, you could become a victim of identity theft and there is also the potential that you may well lose money too. Even if it doesn't get that bad, hacking can mean you might need to reset your phone, which is a whole lot of hassle in itself.
Prevention is therefore better than cure, so it’s a good idea to ensure that your phone has the latest security features installed, as well as being up and running. It’s easy to bypass anti-malware software in search of more fun sounding apps, but investing in some decent anti-hacking tools and a password manager, as well as keeping your phone bang up to date can save a whole lot of time, money, irritation and stress in the long run.
What to look for in a hack?
Even if you’ve got quite a new phone, you’ll probably have played with it for long enough to know how it ticks. So, be sure to keep an eye out for those strange or inappropriate pop-ups that might seemingly start for no reason. You should also smell a rat if you’re seeing evidence of texts and calls that aren’t anything to do with you. Random apps, usually malware may start appearing on your handset too, while performance might seem sluggish or downright slow. Combine that the rise in data usage and the chances are your phone has been attacked.
What to do next?
If you’ve been prudent and installed security software and a password manager on your phone, you might find you get notified of any potential hacks early on anyway. Once you’ve had an indication of hacking you’ll need to take swift, evasive action. Get busy deleting any suspicious apps, or those that might not appear to be something you’ve installed yourself. If you’ve got multiple apps on your phone it can be quite hard keeping track, or remembering the ones you’ve installed yourself.
You’ll also want to get to work changing any or all of your passwords. This is where a password manager can really pay dividends, as it’ll let you get the job done quicker and more efficiently. Meanwhile, be sure to run any anti-malware software you might have installed on your handset. If you haven't got a package then invest in one, as it’ll be money well spent if the cleansing processes can prevent or rid your pride and joy of any net nasties.
Cleaning up the damage
If you’ve got security software and a password manager on board, the chances are there will be less to do in the long run. A quality package really can help to reduce your chances of being hacked, plus you should get notifications early on of anything untoward. Being able to fend off any potential hacks can be a vital part of the prevention process and, that way, your personal data will hopefully remain intact too.
Of course, if you suspect or know that a hacking exploit has taken place you’ll need to get on top of some of the mopping up tasks. One of the first things to do is notify any contacts in your address book or other online accounts such as social media outlets that you may have been the victim of a hacking attempt. They might have already received strange messages, emails or texts from you already, when it actual fact it could have been hackers up to no good.
In a worse case scenario you may have no other option than to reset your phone, which will take it back to the state it was in when you bought it. In other words, you’ll pretty much have to start from scratch building up your phone to look and feel as it was before you got hacked. However, that’s infinitely preferable to being seriously hacked and becoming the victim of identity theft, having personal data stolen or, worse, being ripped off financially.
Live and learn from hacking
There are some ways to help keep your phone more secure, either before or after you suffer a hacking attempt. Much of this is based around using a little bit of common sense. So, for example, be sure to resist the urge to keep too much personal information like bank account details and credit card numbers on your phone. Again, don’t forget to get kitted out with a password manager to further reduce the risk.
You should also switch off Bluetooth apart from when you’re using it, to reduce the vulnerability of your handset. Keep on top of any available software updates, both from the manufacturer of the phone as well as any third-party apps you have installed. Lock down any apps that do contain sensitive information and data, as well as creating a custom passcode for your handset too. Combined, all these techniques can help a lot. Nevertheless, keep your eyes peeled for any unusual activity on your phone and remember; if you spot anything unusual, don’t shrug your shoulders and keep on browsing - take action immediately.
Are you a pro? Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up to the TechRadar Pro newsletter to get all the top news, opinion, features and guidance your business needs to succeed!
Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.