How to spot a phone hack: Internet Scambusters #974
Phone hacking isn't just for the big guys or the bad guys. For all sorts of reasons, you could be a target too.
It's not difficult to break into a phone either, as we report in this week's issue.
But we'll tell you how to identify whether your device has been compromised and what to do about it if it has.
Let's get started…
Phone Hacking Is Easy – Are You a Victim?
Smartphone hacking is big news these days. And it's not just the recent sensational news about Pegasus spyware. Phone hacking is everywhere, and it could be on your cell right now.
A few weeks ago, reports emerged showing that some governments were using a spy program called Pegasus to target not only terrorists but also journalists, businesspeople, activists, politicians, and others.
If you don't fit into one of these categories, you may think you have nothing to worry about. But the reality is that it's quite easy to break into and monitor calls, web usage, and text messages.
"Malevolent hackers can divert your incoming calls and texts to any number they want, and they don't need to be a criminal mastermind to do it," says expert Justin Meyers.
He told followers on the website Gadget Hacks: "Even friends and family members can reroute your incoming calls and messages so that they know exactly who's trying to reach you, and all it takes is seconds of access to your iPhone or wireless account."
We're not here to tell you how that's done. But Meyers, who usually writes specifically about Apple (iOS) mobile devices, cites numerous ways for people to tap into smartphones and to re-route calls. Sneaky hackers can reroute just the calls that aren't answered so the user never finds out.
And not all of them need the hacker to physically have access to the device or even to trick the owner into downloading spyware. They can exploit security weaknesses in cell phone network technology or simply try an easy-to-guess account password for example.
According to tech journalist Natasha Stokes, there are at least a dozen ways they can break in, including via Bluetooth and snooping via unprotected open Wi-Fi networks.
Have You Been Hacked?
The important questions are whether your phone has been hacked and what you can do about it.
It's generally easy to check if your calls are being re-routed by checking "call forwarding" in your device's settings. If it's switched on, you'll find where the call is being forwarded to, and, if you didn't set it, you can switch it off. Simple as that.
On some networks, you can also key in certain codes that tell you if unanswered calls are being forwarded. Meyers lists the codes at Dial These Secret Codes to See If Someone Is Hijacking Calls & Texts on Your iPhone.
10 Signs You've Been Hacked
In addition, here are 10 of the signs that your phone has been hacked, and crooks may be tracking you or spying on your activities:
- Your battery needs recharging more often.
- Your phone seems to be running extremely slowly.
- The device is misbehaving, doing things you don't expect.
- You have apps on your device that you didn't install.
- There is persistent background noise on every call.
- The number of incoming calls and texts suddenly drops well below normal (suggesting they're being forwarded).
- Your data bill seems to be much too high for your usage.
- You find outgoing call numbers or SMS text messages you don't recognize.
- You spot posts in your name that you didn't write on social media sites. Hackers get access to all your online accounts.
- You keep getting pop-ups directing you to another site. A few pop-ups are not unusual, but too many suggest you've been hacked.
What to Do To Protect Yourself
It's well-known that Android-based devices are more likely to be vulnerable to hacking, but it's not uncommon on iOS phones either.
Installing a reputable security app can significantly reduce vulnerability or identify a hack attack. And even if you've already fallen victim, installing an app now might be able to identify and remove the spyware.
You should also avoid compromising your device by not "rooting" or "jailbreaking" it -- that is, using software that enables you to install unauthorized apps.
Other commonsense ways to protect yourself include monitoring for the tell-tale signs we list above, using strong passwords, turning off Bluetooth when you're not using it, keeping security and other software up to date, and using a virtual private network (VPN) -- see Do You Need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for Your Internet Safety?
Using encryption -- jumbling up both data and voice messages -- is also a powerful way to protect yourself from spies and eavesdroppers. You don't need to be a techie to do this. Free encryption apps are available for both iOS and Android phones. Stokes mentions Signal and Wickr Me as examples.
See her full report here: How to Tell If Your Phone Has Been Hacked.
What to Do If You've Been Hacked
As mentioned earlier, phone security apps may be able to kick the hackers off your phone. Also, change your passwords and let your contacts know you've been hacked. If that doesn't do the trick, you may need to consult a tech professional.
In addition, the nonprofit Cybercrime Support Network says you should tell your phone network provider and follow any guidance they provide, update to the latest version of your phone operating system, and notify any financial institutions you deal with. Also report the hack to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
More than two-thirds of Americans already use smartphones, and it's easier than ever for phone hackers to strike. Take steps now to protect yourself!
Alert of the Week
If you're a Windows user, you may know that a new version of the operating system, Windows 11, is on the way. If and when you decide to upgrade, watch out for scam ads and email messages offering to install it.
They ask you to install a downloader and then hit you with some nasty malware.
Make sure you only install the update directly from Microsoft.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!