How to know if hackers are controlling your device

Scientists discovered that a hack happens on average every 39 seconds – and that was back in 2017. That number is constantly changing for worse, especially when you consider that hacking grew by 11% between 2018 and 2019. Some of those hackers will be targeting your smartphone or tablet. But how do you know you were hacked? And how to remove a hacker from your phone? This article is here to answer these questions.

How to know if your phone is hacked?

  1. Phone slows down, heats up, or drains the battery
  2. Your contacts receive messages you never sent
  3. Increased mobile data usage or phone bill
  4. Unknown apps or uninstalled antivirus software
  5. Your phone settings change mysteriously
  6. Phone reboots, may not shut down at all, or acts bizarrely
  7. Purchases you did not make on your credit card

Here are the most common symptoms that will let you know that your phone is hacked. Individually, they may be annoying, but if your phone shows several of them, you can tell that your phone has a virus or has been the target of a hack. 

1. Your device is slowing down or heating up or draining the battery for no reason.

There are several reasons why the phone could slow down, heat up, or start gobbling up energy.

If you haven’t carried out any OS updates recently and you’re not running any resource-intensive apps, you should start worrying. This may be a sign that there’s malware running in the background. Hackers may be using your phone to mine cryptocurrency, which is resource-intensive.

That’s why you should check what apps are running, how much memory they’re using, and how much free space exists on your device. If you can’t find the reason, hackers may have infected your phone. 

2. Your contacts receive messages you never sent 

If your phone is hacked, malware the hackers left on your phone may use your email, instant messaging services, and text messages to spread itself to your contacts. It usually sends messages in your name and attaches a link or a file that would infect other devices. If someone complains to you about something suspicious you sent, start looking into it. 

3. Your data usage increases without you doing anything or there’s a spike in your phone bill

Unexpected increases in data use could mean that your phone was hacked to transmit data; for instance, it may mine cryptocurrency or steal your photos. It may also mean that a hacker is spying on you. Check your app data usage and see which app could be blamed for that. If there are anomalies, you may need to remove a hacker from your phone. 

You may also notice that your phone bill has increased – yet you don’t remember making that many calls. It would be a sign to check your records for numbers that you didn’t call. If you find any, be aware that your phone might have been hacked, and criminals are using it as a proxy. 

Also, be aware of strange background noises and interference when you make a call. It may be a sign of weak reception. However, it may also show that your call is being tapped, and someone is spying on you by listening to your calls.

4. You notice a new app you didn’t install and / or the antivirus software has been uninstalled.

The former means that somebody – a hacker, abusive spouse, or someone else – has installed spyware on your phone. The latter may be the effect of a virus protecting itself – malware sometimes uninstalls antivirus software. If you didn’t do it yourself, it’s one of the signs letting you know that your phone is hacked.

5. Your phone settings change mysteriously

If your phone was physically accessed, the culprit might have changed the settings manually. If you notice that, for example, Bluetooth is on despite you not using it, it may be a sign of malware using it to infect other devices or transmit data. 

6. Phone reboots without reason, may not shut down at all, or acts bizarrely 

It’s bad if your phone restarts without any warning, doesn’t shut down, or is opening apps and calling people on its own. Software errors may be the cause of that. It may also be a sign that a virus or a hacker is accessing your phone remotely. 

7. Purchases that you did not make show up on your credit card

This could indicate some other form of credit card fraud, but a hacked phone is one way a thief can use to get around fraud protection. It’s also worth checking your phone if your bank informs you that they blocked a suspicious transaction.

And now that you know how to spot a hacked phone, let’s look into how to unhack your phone. 

How to remove a hacker from your phone: Android

A hacker is unlikely to be literally monitoring your phone live. However, he or she may have left behind some malware to do it for them. Often enough, such apps come with names that include words “spy,” “monitor,” and other obvious stuff. Here’s how you can check for them:

  1. Go to Settings (by swiping down on the main screen and tapping the appropriate button).
  2. Tap Applications
  3. Find either Manage Applications or Running Services
  4. Check for suspicious apps. 

Don’t know whether the app you found is suspicious or not? Google the name! If it’s really an incompetently-named spy app, just uninstall it

An alternative is to go through your file sections and directories to look for something suspicious. Here’s how it’s done: 

  1. Find My Files or equivalent app on your device.
  2. Access internal storage (phone or SD).
  3. Choose Android.
  4. Choose data.
  5. Browse around for folders with suspicious names. 

Again, if you’re seeing anything suspicious, Google the name and delete any offending folders and files. 

You can also check what apps have administrator access to your phone – there shouldn’t be many. 

  1. Go to Settings (probably via the main screen swipe-down menu).
  2. Scroll down to Lock Screen and Security.
  3. Once inside, scroll to Other Security Settings at the very bottom. 
  4. Tap Device Administrators.
  5. Check if all apps that have access are legitimate. 

The nuclear option in the “how to fix a hacked Android phone” repertoire is the factory reset, which will wipe your phone, restoring it to settings it had when it was new. This is not the first step to make, as it deletes everything you have on the phone. 

How to Do a Factory Reset on Android

  1. Make sure the phone is well-charged or hooked to the charger.
  2. Enter the Settings menu. Most often, you can do this by swiping down on the main screen and selecting the appropriate icon.
  3. Press System.
  4. Press Advanced.
  5. Navigate to Reset Options
  6. Press Erase all data (factory reset)
  7. Press Erase all data.
  8. Enter PIN when asked.
  9. Press Erase all data
  10. Wait for the process to end. 

How to remove a hacker from your phone: iOS

Due to the way Apple approaches app development, it’s really hard to put malware on an iPhone if it’s not jailbroken. A few “no-jailbreak” apps like mSpy exist. However, they depend on access to iCloud. If that’s the case, change the iCloud password to unhack your phone. 

A jailbroken iPhone can only get malware via a third-party installer like Cydia or Icy on it. If they’re among your apps, your phone is jailbroken. If you don’t know who installed them, you’re likely being spied upon. 

You can also see if all the apps installed on your device exist on Apple Store. If any of them don’t, it means that your phone is jailbroken.

How do you fix that? By updating to the latest iOS version via iTunes. 

Just like with Android phones, there’s always the option to wipe the slate clean and carry out a factory reset.

How to Do a Factory Reset on iPhone

  1. Navigate to Settings
  2. Tap General
  3. Select Reset
  4. You’ll be asked to update your iCloud backup if you have one. Tap Back Up Then Erase
  5. If you set a passcode, you’ll get a prompt to enter it.
  6. Tap the Erase iPhone option in the new window.
  7. Enter your Apple ID password.
  8. Wait for the iPhone to reset. 

How to find out who hacked your cell phone

How to find out who hacked your cell phone

Finding out who hacked your phone is difficult, if not impossible, for the average user. If you had jailbroken your iPhone or allowed installing unofficial apps on your Android, you gave them a way in. But as far as regular hackers and purveyors of malware are concerned, they probably hacked you because you were an easy target.

Now, if you found an official spy app that comes from either Google Play or Apple Store installed on your phone, it had to be someone with physical access to your phone. Who can access your phone regularly? Do they know the password? Did you leave your phone unattended in public (work, school) for some time? Then it could be someone you know. But as they did it without logging into any of their own accounts, it’s hard to tell. 

How to not get hacked again

So now you know how to remove a hacker from your phone. But how to prevent them from getting there in the first place? Here are some safety tips:

How to prevent hacking?

  1. Avoid public Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  2. Stick to apps from the official store
  3. Don’t click suspicious links or download suspicious attachments
  4. Install an antivirus software and update often
  5. Only charge your phone via a secure charger
  6. Use a PIN and never leave the phone unattended
  7. Use a VPN
  1. Avoid public Wi-Fi or broadcasting yourself. 

The free public Wi-Fi hotspot may actually be a trap! Hackers set them up to steal your data once you connect. You have to be careful and make sure that you’re connecting to the actual, real Wi-Fi. It could be compromised even then. Secure your connection with a VPN. A VPN encrypts your data traffic, so any digital packages a hacker snatches will be useless. 

Turn off your smartphone Wi-Fi auto-connect feature as well. That way, you’ll avoid accidentally connecting to malicious duplicate networks. Always connect manually.

Another bit of advice is to turn off Bluetooth and personal hotspot functions immediately after use. 

  1. Only install apps via the official app store and backup your data. 

Official app stores are less likely to provide apps that are infected with malware. Some privacy risks may still exist, but those can be avoided by being selective. 

On the other hand, if you need to do a factory reset, it will be easier to do if you have backed up your data and contacts.

  1. Don’t click on suspicious links in email or social media and never download suspicious file attachments.

If a file or link looks suspicious, then it probably is. Remember that some malware spreads automatically – so strange links from your friends and relatives may be a virus trying to get it. Don’t check the file or link, but inform the person it came from.  

  1. Install antivirus software and update often. 

Common threats can be defeated by regular antivirus apps. They have to be regularly updated, just like any other app. Updates for apps and the OS both often include patches for recently-uncovered security issues. 

  1. Only charge your phone via a secure charger. 

USB chargers use wires and ports that can be used for data transmission. Hackers are fully aware of that, so only use your own charger and be careful with charges in rental cars. If you must use a charger you can’t trust, choose the “Only Charging” option on your phone.

  1. Use a PIN and never leave the phone unattended.

A pattern lock is mostly a nuisance, and a PIN or a fingerprint scanner is a much better way to secure your phone if you let it go out of your sight. Even better: don’t let it get out of your sight and don’t leave it unattended.

  1. Use a VPN.

A VPN encrypts your internet traffic. So if a hacker was to steal your data by using, say, a fake Wi-Fi hotspot, he wouldn’t get anything useful. It also keeps your IP – your device’s address online – safe by changing it with the IP address of the VPN server. 

Here’s an easy way to improve your phone’s security

At this point, you should know how to remove a hacker from your phone. But, as we stated before, it’s best not to allow hackers or malware on your phone in the first place. One way to do that is to secure your connection with a VPN like Surfshark. Read the independent Surfshark review here.

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