Plus tips to prevent it from happening
Our smartphones are incredibly personal devices. With access to just about all the information anyone of a criminal bent could want. This is why getting your phone stolen is a huge privacy issue.
However, you don’t need to physically lose your phone for nefarious types to steal all your juicy data. Hackers have various ways to spy on your phone or to take complete control of it. They don’t always do it blatantly either, so you’ll have to keep any eye out for various strange symptoms that could indicate your Android device has been hacked. Here’s how to tell if your Android is hacked.
The Phone Is Slow and the Battery Dies Too Quickly
All Android phones tend to slow down and lose battery capacity over time. However, this doesn’t happen overnight. When your phone is infected with malware that’s sending information on behalf of the hacker, you’ll often notice a significant drop in battery life.
In this situation, your phone might be slow to respond and always feel hot to the touch, even though you might not have used it for a while. This isn’t conclusive evidence of hacking, but a phone that suddenly takes a nosedive in performance and battery life definitely has something wrong with it. So it’s worth checking for malware.
Your Data Inexplicably Disappears
While some people are lucky enough to have unlimited mobile data packages, most people are on a limited data plan. If you suddenly find yourself running out of data more quickly than usual, that could be a sign that your Android is hacked.
This is especially true if the hacker is watching you through your webcam! Even for those who don’t have data caps, it’s worth checking your monthly data usage trends. A suspicious uptick in monthly consumption could be a sign of hacking.
Weird, Suspicious Pop Ups
One obvious sign that plenty of people might ignore is unusual pop up ads or strange windows appearing on your screen. It’s one thing to get spammy malicious pop ups in a mobile web browser, but it’s absolutely not normal to get them anywhere outside of a web browser.
Hacked phones can spawn popups and warnings that look like they come from the operating system. These usually report something like your phone is infected with malware (technically true) and that you should click on a particular link to fix the issue. That link is either a phishing attempt or will lead to the installation of even more malware.
Apps You’ve Never Seen Before
Most Android users probably have an app drawer that’s filled with apps they’ve completely forgotten about. So this can be a hard sign to spot. Still, it’s worth going through your app drawer from time to time to see whether there are any weird apps in there you don’t remember installing.
Your Browser Home Page Changes
If you open your mobile browser and are immediately taken to a landing page that isn’t the one you’ve specified (or the default for your browser) that’s a huge red flag. It means your browser has been hijacked!
This is bad on multiple levels. Not only could you be redirected to fake versions of real sites, but whatever you type into your browser could be watched and captured as well. This includes sensitive information such as passwords!
Your Phone Makes Calls or Sends Texts Without Your Knowledge
It’s always a good idea to check your call records at the end of each month. Whether it’s to catch your kids using your phone without your knowledge or to see if a hacker has been making calls or sending texts from your phone for illicit purposes. If you spot calls or messaging activity in your phone records that you didn’t make, it’s another sign that a given phone could be compromised.
Your Linked Accounts Go Haywire
Smartphones usually have all our online accounts connected to them. Whether it’s banking, social media, email or online gaming. The information and access credentials are all there.
When a hacker takes control of your phone or starts spying on what you’re doing, that’s a gateway to your other accounts. If you’re seeing logins from strange places or warnings that your password was reset, a compromised phone might very well be the source of the intrusion. Which means that simply changing your passwords won’t be enough.
Getting Rid of Hackers
So let’s assume your phone really is compromised. What should you do? Here’s what we suggest:
- First, put the phone into airplane mode and remove the SIM card and SD card if applicable.
- Perform a factory reset on your Android or iPhone. Be warned, you’ll lose all the data on the phone!
- Put the SD card into a computer card reader and scan it for malware.
- Remove any data (such as photos) you want to keep on the SD card, then format the SD card.
- Set up the phone from scratch, as if it were new.
- Replace your SIM card and SD card.
In most cases that should be enough to clear the phone of malware or viruses. However, there are forms of malware out there that can survive a factory reset. For example, xHelper can modify the usually read-only system partition of the phone.
While it’s unlikely, if you find your newly-reset phone compromised again despite precautions, you may have to reflash it with a new copy of the latest firmware. The very worst malware infections could require completely replacing the phone.
Tips to Prevent Phone Hacking
If your phone is now free of malware or you want to prevent a hack in the first place, here are some practical tips:
- Always use unique passwords for each online account you have.
- Use a password manager to generate strong passwords for your accounts.
- Always protect your phone with a passcode or some sort of screen lock.
- Don’t root your phone or install apps from outside the official app store unless you understand the risks.
- Stay away from dodgy websites, usually ones pushing illegal or adult content.
- When using a public charging point, use a special power-only cable that can’t carry data. Some virus infections can happen via USB.
- Avoid installing custom firmware on your phone unless you’re 100% sure it has been verified as safe.
- Review your app permissions and security settings on a regular basis. Don’t give permissions for things like camera or location access to apps that don’t need it to do their job. Uninstall apps that don’t give you the option to turn these permissions off.
These are just some general tips. Your best defense is to be sensible about what you do with your phone, where you take it, who has access to it, and what websites and software you interact with.
Taking Things Seriously
Your smartphone is one of the most valuable items you own, and not just because it was expensive! These devices are at the center of our lives, contain virtually all our information and are always on us. When they are compromised it’s a serious, devastating problem. Keep that in mind whenever you’re wondering whether you should or shouldn’t tap on that link or install a specific app. Is it worth risking what’s at stake?