Hackers often try to get control of phones and tablets to run botnets, to copy your data, or to hack into your financial accounts. They rely on you not noticing that your device has been compromised. So, how can you tell?
Ways to Tell if Your Device is Compromised
Here are some ways to tell if you have been hacked. On their own, they may not necessarily mean anything, but if you have multiple of these symptoms, it’s worth checking for malware.
#1 Your device abruptly slows down, and you can’t find another reason for it
Sometimes installing an OS update or an update to an app can cause a slowdown. However, if you haven’t done any updates recently, then you may get suspicious. Before worrying, though, make sure that your memory is not full and remove any apps you are no longer using.
On desktop or laptop computers, use Task Manager (PC) or Activity Monitor (Mac) to see what processes are using the most RAM, disk space, and/or energy. This can also help you spot a legitimate piece of software that is going out of control.
#2 Somebody says they got your text, email, or instant message… that you never sent
One classic hijack is to send social media messages from somebody else’s Facebook account. The link in it will then install the malware on the recipient’s phone.
#3 Your device’s battery is draining faster and/or your device seems hotter
Device heat can often be related to your phone being “cryptojacked” – hijacked such that your CPU power is being used to mine cryptocurrency.
#4 Your data usage jumps suddenly, and it’s not because of that new streaming app you’re trying out
This could indicate that your phone is receiving or transmitting data. Check data usage per app, as this can help you track down a shady or fake app.
#5 There’s an app on your app list that you don’t remember installing
This can mean that somebody has installed spyware on your phone (abusive spouses like to do this) or that you got a trojan.
#6 Background noise or static during calls
Whilst this is often a sign of an iffy connection to a cell tower, if you suddenly start hearing a lot of weird noises, especially in places where you’ve always had a clear connection before, it could indicate that your phone is being “tapped.”
#7 Your Bluetooth is turned on, and you never use Bluetooth or know you turned it off
Some malware will turn on your Bluetooth to get remote access to your device or others.
#8 Your device reboots unexpectedly, without the normal warnings
Also, if your phone starts calling people or starting applications unasked…this could be tapping or it could be something wrong with your system software.
#9 You see phone numbers in your recent calls that you do not recognize or a spike in your cell phone bill
This may be a sign that phreakers are using your phone as a proxy.
#10 You try to turn your phone off and it won’t switch off, possibly with other odd behaviors
#11 Your antivirus software stops working or uninstalls itself. Malware will often try to disable antivirus software
#12 System settings, including brightness, are mysteriously changed
#13 Purchases show up on your credit card that you did not make
This could indicate some other form of credit card fraud, but phone hacking is one way that can sometimes get around fraud protection. Also, it’s worth checking your phone if your bank does tell you they blocked a transaction.
What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Hacked?
If you have the symptoms above and think you may have been hacked, there are some things you can do:
- Run an antivirus and malware scan on the device. This may find the problem software or virus. Preferably run scans from more than one vendor, as they don’t always have the same threat library.
- Check reputable antivirus sites for announcements of new threats. These often come with removal instructions.
- Remove any apps you don’t recognize. If you have installed apps by any means other than the official app store, uninstall them.
- If all else fails, wipe your device, restore factory defaults, and reinstall your apps.
- If you receive a suspicious or odd social media message from somebody, don’t click on the links in it and let the person know right away by another means that they may have been hacked.
- If you think your device may have been rooted, then show it to a professional.
How to Protect Yourself
Obviously, it is far better to protect your device in the first place. Having to restore to factory default can be beyond annoying and can result in losing valuable data. Here are a few tips:
Avoid using public WiFi. If you must, then use a VPN to encrypt your data. The cell network is generally a little more secure.
Never install apps onto a phone or tablet other than through the official app store. For desktop or laptop computers, be careful who you install software from, and use “identified” developers as much as possible.
Don’t click on links in email or links in social media messages that don’t make sense (either the message or the apparent nature of the link).
Install antivirus software, including on phones, and keep it updated.
Keep your OS and applications as up to date as your hardware allows.
Avoid charging your phone or tablet using an unknown computer or a rental car. If you must, then make sure to choose “Only Charging” on the phone.
Switch off automatic connection to public Wi-Fi. Choose networks manually.
Use a PIN or other protection on your phone.
Avoid storing your credit card information and bank credentials on your phone.
Back up your contacts and other data so that if you need to wipe your phone you can.
Thankfully, your phone being hacked is not the end of the world. However, it can result in a lot of hassle, and not just for you but for your contacts. Watch for these signs that your device has been compromised so you can do something about it right away.
Have a question about hacked devices? Ask us in the comment section below!
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