From uploading photos and videos to social media to carrying out banking transactions, we use our mobile phones for everything. Being able to do so much on just one single device is incredibly convenient, but it also means phone hacking is more of a problem.
Phone hacking is where a person forcibly accesses a phone without the owner’s permission. Hackers can do this through security breaches, listening in on unsecured internet connections or by gaining physical access to a device and trying to guess the owner’s login details (“brute-force attacks”).
With all our sensitive data stored in one place, mobile phones are the ideal target for fraudsters and identity thieves. And unfortunately, anyone who owns a smartphone — whether it’s an Android or an iPhone — is at risk of being hacked.
With that in mind, we’ve written this article. In it, you’ll find nine tips to prevent your phone being hacked, what to look for if you think you’ve already been hacked and advice on what to do if you are a victim of hacking.
Some of the measures you can take to prevent your phone from being hacked include setting a passcode, installing security software, using a VPN, not using public charging ports and being wary of phishing scams.
Other tips that can reduce the risk of phone hacking include safeguarding your data, always keeping your phone with you, only downloading official apps and regularly updating apps and software.
Continue reading to find out more about how to protect your phone from hackers.
In the following sections, we’ll explain these tips in more detail to give you the best chance of avoiding becoming a victim of phone hacking.
1. Set a password
When you buy a new phone, you will usually be asked to set up a fingerprint, facial ID, pattern or a passcode that will be required in order to unlock your device each time you want to use it. If you haven’t done this already, we strongly advise you to do it now. This is the easiest way to prevent just anyone from being able to access your personal information and login details.
When choosing your passcode, make sure it is something that isn’t easily guessable, such as “0000”, “1234” or your birthday, and don’t use the same password anywhere else. Six-digit codes are best because they are more secure.
2. Install security software
Considering the amount of sensitive information that’s on your phone, it’s wise to download anti-virus software to your device — especially if you have an Android phone.
But, while Apple’s iOS software makes it extremely difficult for malware, including viruses, to compromise an iPhone, cyber scams are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. This means that even iPhone users should consider installing security software to stop their passwords from being compromised.
Mobile security software such as McAfee, Norton or Avast scans your phone for malware and removes any threats to keep your personal data, login information and payment details secure.
3. Use a VPN
To save mobile data, many of us don’t think twice about connecting to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network. But it’s only advisable to do this if you have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) set up on your phone.
VPNs make connecting to public Wi-Fi networks safe, by hiding your browsing history and IP address from hackers, which prevents them from being able to access sensitive data and documents.
Some of the best VPN apps for both iPhones and Android devices include Nord VPN, Surfshark and Private Internet Access VPN.
If you don’t want to use a VPN, an alternative is to turn off Wi-Fi when you are in public places to stop your phone from automatically joining networks without your knowledge. This can be done quickly and easily on most smartphones — usually by swiping the screen and tapping on the Wi-Fi symbol to turn it on or off.
4. Don’t use public charging ports
Like unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, it’s also best to avoid public charging stations.
This is because hackers are able to infect the USB port or cable with a virus or malware to transfer your data without you knowing it. This is called “juice jacking”.
If you desperately need to charge your phone while you are out and about, rather than using a USB charging port, use an AC outlet as these only transmit power and not data. Some other options are to use a charge-only cable or to connect a data blocker between the cable and the USB port.
5. Be wary of phishing
Cybercriminals can also hack your phone via phishing attacks. Phishing is where a fraudster sends an email that appears to be from a legitimate source. Usually, the email will contain a malicious link that takes the recipient to a fake website which either asks them to enter their login details or input their financial information, or instals malware on their phone to steal confidential information.
If you have anti-virus software installed, emails like this will be blocked automatically and you shouldn’t need to worry too much. However, it is always best to avoid clicking on links or attachments that look suspicious, especially if they come from an address you don’t recognise.
6. Safeguard your data
Like choosing a passcode to unlock your device, any account passwords you choose should be difficult to guess and entirely unique. It can be difficult to remember every single password, but instead of storing them on your device, where hackers might find them, use a secure password vault like 1Password instead.
If you are given the option, it is a good idea to turn on two-factor authentication as well. Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security that requires you to verify your identity in an additional way or on another device.
Another way to protect your data from phone hackers is to turn off the autofill feature in your internet browsers. This may make things less convenient for you, but it will also be less convenient for hackers to access your data.
It makes sense to regularly back up your phone so that if it is lost or stolen, you can remotely wipe the data to prevent potential hackers from stealing it with the reassurance that it’s all stored safely in the cloud. If you’re worried that you’ll forget to do this, both iPhone and Android devices enable you to turn on automatic backups.
Another habit to adopt is to clear your internet history on a regular basis to prevent cybercriminals from having clues about your life, which can help them gain access to your personal data.
7. Always keep your phone with you
If a hacker has physical access to your phone, they will be able to hack it much more easily. So, keep your device with you at all times to prevent it from being stolen and don’t leave it unattended for any length of time. Worryingly, accomplished hackers are able to instal malware on your phone in a matter of minutes.
If your device is lost or stolen, turn on lost phone tracking to trace its current location and have it returned to you before the opportunity for hacking arises.
To do this, you may need to install a third-party app, although iPhone and Android devices have this feature built in.
To do this on an iPhone, go to Settings, click on your name, select “Find My” and turn on “Find My iPhone”.
To do this on an Android device, go to Settings, select “Security”, select “Find My Device” and turn on “Find My Device”.
8. Only download official apps
Another way to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of phone hacking is to download mobile apps only from official sources, like the Apple App Store and Google Play. This is because they have strict measures in place to prevent malicious apps from appearing in their stores. (That said, untrustworthy apps do still manage to find their way in, so be sure to read descriptions and customer reviews before downloading.)
Even though it may be tempting, avoid “jailbreaking” your phone. Jailbreaking — or “rooting” if you are an Android user — gives you complete control over your device, allowing you to rearrange your interface and download apps from anywhere. While this is a freeing concept, you should also understand that it leaves you much more vulnerable to hackers, as you will no longer be unprotected by your device’s built-in security features.
9. Regularly update apps and software
While we’re on the subject of apps, try to get into the habit of regularly reviewing them to see which ones you don’t use, and can therefore be deleted, and which ones you do use and need updating.
Apps you no longer use should be deleted to reduce the number of locations where your data is stored. Bear in mind that some apps are connected to an online account that stores data off your phone, so remember to delete those too.
It is important to make sure that the apps you do use have been updated to the latest version. Often, apps are updated because of security issues, so make sure you update them regularly or turn on auto-updates if your device gives you the option.
Similarly, you should always make sure that your phone’s operating software has been updated to the latest version, as they contain the latest security patches.
To check for software updates on an iPhone, go to Settings, select “General”, select “Software Update”, click “Download and Install” then “Install” and enter your passcode.
To check this on an Android device, go to Settings, select “System”, select “Advance” and click “System Update”.
It is not always possible to know whether your phone has been hacked. However, if you notice any of the following, it may have been:
- Your phone’s battery drains quickly
- Your phone is running slower than it usually does
- Your phone is freezing, crashing or unexpectedly restarting
- You notice unfamiliar apps
- You see unfamiliar calls or text messages in your logs
- There’s been abnormal activity on your online accounts (for example, unusual login locations, password reset emails or new account signup verifications)
- You are going through more data than usual
- You are getting more pop-ups than normal
If you are the unfortunate victim of phone hacking, you should do the following:
- Report the incident — If you think your phone has been hacked and your personal or financial data has been stolen, one of the first things to do is to report this to the police, the fraud and crime reporting body ActionFraud and/or your bank. It is also a good idea to follow up with any online services that have saved your details (such as eBay and Amazon).
- Download anti-virus software — If the hacker has used malware, anti-virus software will identify it, quarantine it to prevent it from infecting the rest of your phone and then delete it.
- Delete unfamiliar apps — Delete any apps you didn’t download yourself as soon as you notice them.
- Factory reset your phone — For added peace of mind, reset your phone to its original settings.
- Change your passwords — Keep your information safe by changing all compromised passwords. These might include your Apple ID or Google account password, phone unlock passcode and online banking or email login details.
With all our sensitive data stored in one place, mobile phones are the ideal target for hackers. With that in mind, nine tips to prevent your phone being hacked are:
- Set a passcode
- Install security software
- Use a VPN
- Don’t use public charging ports
- Be wary of phishing scams
- Safeguard your data
- Always keep your phone with you
- Only download official apps
- Regularly update apps and software
Some signs that your phone may have been hacked include a fast-draining battery, abnormal activity on your online accounts, unfamiliar apps appearing and more data usage than normal.
If your phone has been hacked, you should report this to the police, ActionFraud and/or your bank, download anti-virus software to remove any malware, delete any unfamiliar apps, factory reset your phone and change all compromised passwords.