5 Signs of a Smartphone Hack (and How to Protect Yourself)

Cyberattacks have exploded this year, and your mobile device is not exempt from being targeted.
5 Signs of a Smartphone Hack (and How to Protect Yourself)
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Mobile threats have been rapidly evolving over the past two years, and they're more sophisticated than ever before. If your device is compromised, you'll likely have additional tasks running that will decrease its performance. Watch for these five signs that you've been hacked, and learn a few tips on how to keep yourself protected in this dynamic threat landscape.

1. Warmer Device

A device that's running malware in the background, in addition to your normal use, is working harder. This means your device will likely feel warmer to the touch, just like how hot your device feels after a long telephone call. You'd be less likely to perceive this if you're using a case, however, and a more sophisticated attacker would schedule this code to run during a time of less use, like at night, so you don't notice the heat difference. 

Related: How to Prevent Business Emails From Being Hacked

2. Battery Life Decreases Significantly

Just as your device might feel warmer to the touch, you might notice that your battery life exponentially decreases if you have malware on your phone. Again, this is more often a sign of poorly written code that's clunky and is running inefficiently; more sophisticated attacks will use better code, and they'll likely run at night when your phone is plugged in so you won’t notice the rapid battery depletion.

3. Other Performance Issues

Besides temperature increase and/or decreased battery life, you might notice other performance issues with a compromised mobile device. These could include:

  • Frequent app crashes.

  • Random device reboots.

  • Frequent loss of connectivity or cell signal.

4. Random Apps Appearing on Your Device

It's definitely not normal for random apps to appear on your device. This is a problem more likely to occur with Android devices, especially if you've bypassed some default security settings. On a device with an Android OS, check to make sure developer tools and ADB debugging is disabled. That being said, if you've purchased a device new from major manufacturers, like Google or Samsung, these settings come automatically disabled and you shouldn't have to worry (it's always good to double-check, though).

5. Strange Text Messages

If your device is compromised, you may notice strange text messages. You may also notice your contacts are receiving strange messages from your device. This is likely just spam that's attempting to get you or your contacts to tap a malicious link, but it could mean you have malware on your phone that's programmed to send messages to other people in your address book.

Related: 'They Messed with the Wrong Gal': What to Do When Your Social Media Gets Hacked

There's Still Hope to Protect Yourself

Most cyberattacks have a way to prevent them, and there are some universally preventative measures you can take to make yourself a harder target as well as wipe out any malware that may currently be on your phone. 

1. Reboot Frequently 

Most malware for mobile devices is unable to persist past a device reboot. On some Samsung devices, these reboots can be scheduled to take place at specific times. On devices running iOS, you'll have to manually reboot. Threats that persist past a reboot are very sophisticated, and the vast majority of people are unlikely to be the targets of such a resource-intensive attack.

2. Update Your Operating System

Keeping your device and apps up to date is important because it's the way developers patch existing vulnerabilities. iOS devices almost force you to keep it updated, but Android devices might take a little more deliberate planning.

3. Upgrade Obsolete Devices

If your device can no longer download the latest updates, it means it's no longer supported. You're best off upgrading your device in this case. Here's a list of the current devices Apple is still supporting. If your job, travel or personal life make you more likely to be a target, you should think about upgrading your device more frequently or using a separate device for travel. 

4. Security Apps

There are apps out there that can provide an extra level of security. One good example is a VPN to encrypt your web and app data. It’s better to host your own, but if that sounds overwhelming, just make sure to do plenty of research before you give any app developer your money. Additionally, a threat detection app can detect app-based and network-based threats. Again, do your research before you download any security app, as this is a simple way for Trojan attacks to occur.

5. Encrypt Your Messages

Using an end-to-end encrypted messaging app can help keep prying eyes from seeing your messages; plus, they're harder to spam.

6. Think Before You Tap

It's almost cliche at this point, but think before you tap that link. If the URL looks odd to you, or the sender is unfamiliar, it's probably malicious. 

While mobile device threats are becoming more sophisticated every year, they're still relatively simple to combat. Awareness is half of the battle, and remembering that that little phone you carry everywhere with you is vulnerable can help you take the steps necessary to protect yourself. 

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