As smartphone technology advances, hackers’ access to us and our sensitive information grows at an equal and alarming rate. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, by 2021, 85% of Americans owned a smartphone. With cybercrime on the rise, this represents a substantial pool of potential victims from which criminals can choose.
Common ways in which cybercriminals gain access to your smartphone include smishing (or SMS phishing), public Wi-Fi networks with no password requirement, installing spyware and malware through “monitoring” and malicious apps, and more.
Keep reading to learn how you can find out if your phone has been hacked. For more in-depth information about how to safeguard your devices and data from cyberattacks, be sure to read our guide on how to protect yourself online.
What is phone hacking?
Phone hacking constitutes the act of using malicious software like adware to gain access to a vulnerable mobile phone without authorization. The object of this type of cyberattack is to steal, leak or trade the victim’s personal data.
Common sensitive data that’s targeted includes a victim’s IP address, Social Security number, and financial information. More recently, it’s been discovered that hackers may even be able to track your location through SMS due to cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the system. The dangers of phone hacking range from violations of privacy like unlawful surveillance to complex predicaments like identity theft.
How do hackers hack phones?
There are a myriad of methods hackers use to not only hack smartphones, but all types of mobile devices. Here are some that have become popular in recent years:
- Smishing: Otherwise known as SMS phishing, it involves sending malicious links or messages that download malware into your phone, and even impersonating people or agencies to get you to surrender your information through text.
- Open Wi-Fi networks: By creating phony public networks or having an open hotspot, for example, hackers can access the phones of unsuspecting people who need to borrow data temporarily.
- Bluetooth: With this method, hackers use software to intercept your Bluetooth signal and gain access to your device.
- QR-phishing: A newer type of phishing attack, hackers and scammers try to get you to scan a QR code and tap the link it provides. These QR codes could take you to shady websites or direct you to download new apps and software.
- Malicious apps: Not all apps you can download from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store are free from malware and viruses. Moreover, when you give downloaded apps certain permissions, pay special attention to what they’re requesting access to. Some apps will request access to your phone camera, contacts and location needlessly.
Signs your phone is hacked
If you’re currently wondering, is my phone hacked?, below you’ll find a list of red flags to look out for. In cases of phone hacking, you should observe all changes in your device’s overall performance and suspicious activity in any accounts you access through your phone.
Unusual battery drain
When a phone is hacked, any malicious apps and software running in the background will certainly have an impact on the device’s battery. Take note of the usual length of your battery life, and don’t just assume your battery is degrading if your phone needs recharging more often.
Excessive data usage
In order to access and export your information, hackers will need to use your mobile data. Watch out for any sudden changes in how much data your phone is consuming. Depending on your device’s operating system — Android or iOS — you can usually check for high data usage in the settings app.
Slow performance and overheating
The added power usage that comes with a hacked phone can lead to devices heating up more than they usually do. If you’re not actively using your phone and it still gets randomly hot, you should consider someone could’ve tapped into it.
The same applies to sudden slower performance. Your cellphone should not be operating slower out of the blue. If this is the case, it may not necessarily mean your phone is hacked, but it could be worth looking into just to be safe.
Unexpected pop-ups and ads
If you’re used to accessing websites and apps without ads and pop-ups, and they’re appearing more regularly, your phone could be infected with a type of malware known as adware. This malicious software aims to convince you to click on one of the links it provides.
Unfamiliar apps or software
In order for cybercriminals to tap into your phone, they may need to install apps and software they will need to run in the background to maintain their hold on it. If you make it a habit to check your apps and files every now and then, you could detect a cyberattack in time.
Unexplained text messages or calls
When hackers take over your phone, they may have control over your phone calls and messages as well. If your friends and family receive calls and texts from you, but you didn’t send them, it’s possible a hacker may be trying to scam them or get access to their phones, or even get more information about you.
Hackers may also be sending and receiving calls and messages to and from unknown phone numbers, so look through your conversations and call log to spot any irregular communications.
Suspicious activity in your accounts
Another tell-tale sign of having a hacked phone is having unusual activity in your online accounts. Remember that if you’re logged into your accounts on your phone, be them financial, professional, or personal accounts, hackers could have access to them as well.
If you notice a credit card transaction you don’t recognize on your statement, a sent email you didn’t write, or even a social media post not posted by you, your accounts could be compromised, and so could your device.
What to dial to see if your phone is hacked
If you suspect your phone is hacked, there are certain numbers you can look up to confirm it. A popular one, the MAC address, is a 12-digit number that’s assigned to each individual phone at the manufacturing stage. Much like an IP address, its purpose is to identify your phone within a network.
You can find your phone’s MAC address in your settings. Depending on your device’s operating system, you may be able to find it by dialing certain codes.
What to do if your phone is hacked
Although it might be your first instinct to panic after you’ve found out your phone is hacked, know that there are things you can and should do to deal with the situation. Below are some measures you can take if your phone has been hacked:
1. Isolate and disconnect the device
The first thing you should do is to cut off all network and mobile data connections. Hackers need your phone to be connected to the internet in some way or another to be able to access it. You may be able to safeguard some of the information on your phone if you act swiftly and disconnect it.
2. Change your passwords and enable two-factor authentication
Another important measure is to change the passwords on all your accounts, including personal accounts, online financial accounts and email accounts.
You should also set up multi-factor authentication so that there’s an added layer of security whenever you log in or someone else tries to log in to your accounts. It’s recommended that you do so with every single account you have, from social media accounts to accounts for messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Security apps with features like these can be downloaded on both iPhones and Android phones.
3. Update your device's software
Updating or integrating security software, such as an antivirus, could help you identify and deal with potential malware installed on your iOS or android devices.
To be even safer, you could sign up for a VPN (virtual private network). Most VPN services provide protection for more than one device, which increases your overall mobile security. Some subscriptions even include antivirus software for no additional cost.
4. Remove suspicious apps and files
If you’ve identified apps and/or software that you did not download, delete them immediately. Sometimes, merely deleting the apps will not be enough. You should also check for any lingering files with traces of malwarebytes and remove those as well.
5. Contact your phone service provider and law enforcement, if necessary
Perhaps the most important measure you can take when your phone has been hacked is to contact your service provider. They will be able to advise you on any additional things you could do, such as giving your phone a factory reset or putting a lock on your SIM card.
In cases as serious as having your identity stolen or funds drained from a bank account, you should definitely contact the authorities.
Can someone hack your phone through text?
In short, yes. Hackers have devised many methods to take over phones, including through text messages. They can be as basic and easy to spot as someone pretending to be someone else and directly asking you for information, or as intricate as links to malicious websites and malware that can download automatically.
Summary of Money's how to know if your phone is hacked
- With a rise in the development of cyberattack methods, smartphone users have become alarmingly susceptible to phone hacking.
- Common phone hacking methods include different types of phishing (such as QR code and SMS phishing), open networks or hotspots, and intercepting bluetooth connections.
- Although some methods can be more imperceptible than others, there are ways to tell if your phone has been hacked.
- In many cases, your phone will tell you it’s hacked through its performance — battery usage, how quickly or slowly your apps and programs run, etc.
- You should pay attention to all downloaded files and apps, and which permissions they request, as well as monitor your accounts for unusual activity.
- There are measures you can take if you’ve become a victim of phone hacking, which are mainly focused around increasing your phone’s security and cutting hackers’ access to your device and accounts.