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SECURITY

How to Secure Your Phone from Hacks

EXPECTED READ TIME: 7 MINUTES

Smartphones bring the world to your fingertips with a swipe to the right or a tap of the screen. You can do or access nearly anything from banking and email to shopping and social media.

These same devices, in the wrong hands, have also made it easier for tech-savvy thieves to disrupt personal lives and global systems.

What Is Phone Hacking?

At its core, phone hacking is the process by which someone gains unauthorized access to your mobile device, its communications, or the data on it.

Of nearly 6.4 billion smartphones in use, an estimated 4 out of 10 phones worldwide are susceptible to cyberattacks.

Requiring a four- or six-digit password (or biometric identification like a fingerprint) to open your phone is the first line of defense for your mobile device.

Common Smartphone Hacks

Cyberthieves have devised numerous ways to hack into phones. Phone hacking involves stealing a phone and bypassing security code with brute force or deploying software that unleashes viruses and other malware. Here are five common ways hackers can gain access to your device:

1. Malicious Apps

Malicious software, or malware, often comes along with mobile apps. While they may seem useful or entertaining on the surface, these apps are designed to hijack your personal data, monitor phone use, and manipulate online activity. The number of successful mobile malware attacks eclipsed 40 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, making it one of the most effective forms of phone hacking.

2. Fake Wi-Fi Networks

When you log on to the public Wi-Fi at your favorite coffee shop, you might really be logging in to a falsified network. Hackers often mimic legitimate routers to redirect you through their computer or smartphone, where they can view your activity and steal passwords and data.

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3. Phishing Messages

A text urging you to click a link and claim a prize might be enticing, but it's likely a phishing scam. These fraudulent messages typically try to lure you to a phony website and trick you into entering sensitive information or granting access to private records and accounts.

4. SIM Swapping

With SIM swapping, fraudsters call your cell service provider pretending to be you and request them to activate a new SIM card for a phone that they own. If successful, the scammer will receive all of your messages, calls, and data on their phone.

5. Spy Apps

Often marketed to protective parents, phone surveillance apps allow you to track a person's location and monitor their communications. Unfortunately, hackers use these same tools to intercept your messages, record conversations, and even take control of your device remotely.

Public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsecure, making libraries, gyms, restaurants, and other popular spots fertile ground for hackers.

Signs of a Hacked Phone

While hacking methods differ, there are some telltale signs that could indicate your phone has been compromised:

  • Your phone loses a charge quickly.
  • Apps take longer to load.
  • Your phone runs more slowly than normal.
  • You receive an excessive number of pop-ups.
  • Apps you didn't download appear.
  • Unexplained data usage occurs.
  • Higher phone bills arrive.

If you notice any of these issues with your phone, it's a good bet you've been hacked. You should act quickly to limit the damage the cyberattack can do.  

The Best Ways to Protect Your Phone from Hacking

Protecting your phone from potential hackers begins with keeping it with you at all times and practicing good cyber hygiene. Beyond that, you should make a point to:

Put a Lock on It

Sure, it's a little inconvenient having to unlock your phone just to post a pic on Instagram or check in on your Facebook page. However, the extra three seconds it takes to key in a passcode can save you countless hours of anxiety if your phone is ever lost or stolen.

Requiring a four- or six-digit password (or biometric identification like a fingerprint) to open your phone is the first line of defense for your mobile device. You can set lock features on both iPhones and Android phones by going to the Security setting in your system folder. 

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Update Your OS and Apps

Phone manufacturers and software publishers routinely issue updates for their products to fix bugs and patch security holes.

Regardless of the brand, you should install the latest versions of your operating system and mobile apps as soon as they're available. Running the newest OS and software on your phone will help keep hackers from exploiting security vulnerabilities.

Use Caution with Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsecure, making libraries, gyms, restaurants, and other popular spots fertile ground for hackers. Scammers often lie in wait, figuratively or literally, until they can victimize unsuspecting users with a fake network account or a man-in-the-middle attack.

The most effective way to protect your mobile device is to avoid connecting to unprotected networks altogether. If you do choose to log in to public Wi-Fi from your phone, limit your use to general web surfing and refrain from mobile banking, online shopping, and other activities that could expose sensitive data.

Of nearly 6.4 billion smartphones in use, an estimated 4 out of 10 phones worldwide are susceptible to cyberattacks.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

If you view passcodes as a bit of a hassle, you'll really "appreciate" two-factor authentication. All the more reason you should embrace the technology and enable it on your phone. 

As its name suggests, two-factor authentication requires you to enter two types of verification — such as a password, security token, or fingerprint — to log in to your device. This extra layer of protection further reduces the chances that cybercriminals can hack into your phone and access private information. 

Choose (and Use) Apps Wisely

With roughly 3.5 million and 2.2 million mobile apps to choose from, respectively, on Google Play and Apple's App Store, there really is a portable software option for just about anything. That doesn't mean you should try to load them all on your phone.

Aside from eating up storage and draining your battery, an overabundance of apps increases the likelihood that more eyes will be on your personal information, whether legally or illegally. So, before downloading TikTok, Snapchat, Minecraft, or any other app to your phone, be sure to:  

  • Read the privacy policy to see if — or how — your data will be shared with third parties
  • Determine if the information the app requests seems relevant to its purpose
  • Search for online reviews and forgo apps that have a lot of negative user comments

Simply put, be selective about your apps and err on the side of caution if you have any doubts about the software's safety or the developer's intent.

Power Off…and On

Believe it or not, one of the easiest ways to protect your phone is to turn it off and back on again every week or so. This simple act can disrupt an intruder's ability to tap the cache of information stored temporarily or permanently on your phone.  

Although rebooting your mobile device won't prevent cyber thieves from attempting to hack your device, it will make their jobs more difficult. And since fraudsters prefer the path of least resistance, any added work is often enough to direct their efforts elsewhere.

Since fraudsters prefer the path of least resistance, any added work is often enough to direct their efforts elsewhere.

Other Ways to Keep Phone Hackers at Bay

If you're looking to kick your phone safety game up a few notches, take note of these additional insights and guidelines:

  • Limit your followers, optimize privacy settings, and post less often on social media.
  • Back up (to the cloud) your phone's files, photos, and contacts.
  • Install an anti-virus app whether you have an Android device or iPhone.

For even more tips on protecting your phone and the data stored on it, check out these mobile device best practices from the National Security Agency. 

The Takeaway

Hacking is a significant threat to anyone who uses their mobile device to do pretty much anything beyond making calls.

However, if you take proactive security measures, remain vigilant, and follow basic safety protocols, you can get a handle on your phone and keep cyber thieves at arm's length.

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