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How to know if your phone is hacked

If your phone has started behaving erratically, you might be left thinking “who's controlling my phone?” Look for these signs and red flags to know if your cell phone has been hacked or not.

Paulius Ilevičius

Paulius Ilevičius

How to know if your phone is hacked

Hackers are always sharpening their tools. Below we will explain how your phone can be hacked and how to identify and remove a hacker from your phone.

How your phone can be hacked

There are many ways to hack your phone. Some don’t even require advanced tech knowledge:

  1. Sim swap attack. By using this attack, hackers can transfer your phone number to their own SIM card and take over your accounts;
  2. Spyware that collects your data. Some spy apps are pretty easy to get hold of and can be used by a person without advanced IT knowledge. This lets them remotely monitor your phone activities. A person can install such an app by getting a direct access to your mobile device;
  3. A USB cable or charger lead could be used to hack your device. When a phone is connected to another device with a USB cable — to a laptop, for example — data can be sent via the USB. That means, in theory, a computer infected with malware or viruses could automatically infect your phone if you connect the two. This is true even if you're only using the USB link as a way to charge your phone;
  4. You might get malware via public Wi-Fi networks or charging stations. Hackers can set up fake Wi-Fi networks, called evil twin networks, to redirect you to malicious websites or steal data via USB cable at a charging station;
  5. Phishing text, Facebook or email messages with malicious links that install malware and snatch your data;
  6. You might also download malware from suspicious sites while downloading apps or by clicking on malicious pop-ups or links.

PRO TIP: Let your friends and contacts know if your device has been hacked. It's likely that hackers will use your compromised phone, as well as any messaging apps you have installed, to launch more attacks on other people.

How to know if your phone is hacked

Have you ever wondered “Is my phone hacked?” Here are some signs:

  1. You notice something you don’t recognize on your phone (e.g., apps you didn’t download, text messages you didn’t send, purchases you didn’t make, suspicious phone calls);
  2. Your phone works slow. It uses way more resources and battery power and becomes hotter than usual. Malware working in the background might reduce its power significantly;
  3. Mysterious data usage spikes without any changes on your part. Malicious processes might be consuming your mobile data in the background as they track what you do;
  4. Strange behavior. Apps that don’t run the way they should, switch on and off unexpectedly, or that crash or fail to load;
  5. Pop-ups. If you notice lots of pop-ups appearing on your screen, you probably have spyware or malware.
hacked phone signs

Also, check out our brief video on how to know whether your phone is hacked below.

How to know if your phone camera is hacked

If you suspect that your phone camera was hacked, there are a few more tell-tale signs that someone else is using it remotely. For example, you may notice photos and videos in your gallery that you don’t remember taking. Of course, you can accidentally record something, but if you keep finding new ones, it’s a sign that someone might have control over your camera.

The flash lighting up when you’re not using your phone is another thing to look out for. Both the camera and flash need a lot of resources and battery power. Therefore, if someone is remotely controlling your device, you will notice it getting very hot even when you don’t use it.

How to remove a hacker from my phone

Here’s what to do if your phone has been hacked:

  1. Change your passwords immediately. You can find out our tips for stronger passwords here. You can also use our Nordpass app to store your strong and complex passwords;
  2. Run anti-malware software to detect any malicious applications and processes. Just make sure you use safe and reliable security software that doesn’t track and gather your data;
  3. Turn off your mobile data and Wi-Fi when not using them. This might prevent a malicious app from using your data and can disrupt its activity if it uses online connection;
  4. Remove the suspicious apps immediately. If your security apps don’t find anything, or if you don’t have any, it’s still a good idea to delete any apps you downloaded right before the problems started appearing. Check our guidelines on how to remove unwanted apps;
  5. Inform your friends and contacts and instruct them to ignore suspicious messages coming from you;
  6. Stop broadcasting your personal hotspot when in public as this makes it easier for hackers to breach your device;
  7. Restore your phone to its factory settings. That might help if tons of pop-ups or malicious apps have made your phone impossible to use. This one is a nuclear option, so use it only as a last resort. Here’s how:

Restoring your iPhone using Catalina

Before restoring an iPhone to factory settings, iPhone users should remember to back up any important files and data.

1. On a device with macOS Catalina 10.15.5 operating system or earlier, connect your phone to your computer.

2. In the Finder on your mac, select your device in the Finder sidebar.

Restoring your iPhone how to tell if your phone has been hacked

3. Click Trust on your iPhone and enter your passcode.

Restoring your iPhone how to tell if your phone has been hacked

4. Click Restore iPhone

Restoring your iPhone how to tell if your phone has been hacked

Restoring your Android phone to it's factory settings

For Android users, it's important to backup anything essential before restoring your Android to factory settings.

1. Open Settings;

Restoring your Android phone how to tell if your phone is hacked

2. Go to General management;

Restoring your Android phone how to tell if your phone is hacked

3. Tap Reset;

Restoring your Android phone how to tell if your phone is hacked

4. Press Factory data reset;

Restoring your Android phone how to tell if your phone is hacked

5. Tap Reset.

Restoring your Android phone how to tell if your phone is hacked

How to block hackers from hacking your phone

To prevent your phone from being hacked, do the following:

  1. Turn off your hotspot when in public. If you do need to turn it on, make sure you’ve made the settings as secure as possible;
  2. Avoid Wi-Fi or charging spots you don’t trust. If you must use public Wi-Fi, never do so without a VPN. Also, don’t forget to disconnect from public Wi-Fi once you’ve stopped using it;
  3. Switch your Bluetooth off when not using it as it can also be an access point for hackers;
  4. Lock your phone with a password or lock screen;
  5. Never leave your phone unattended and don’t let people you don’t know use it;
  6. Regularly review what apps your phone has to see if there are any you don’t recognize;
  7. Do not open suspicious messages, links, or files. They can be malware or spyware in disguise;
  8. Install anti-malware apps, which can remove malware soon after it's downloaded, or prevent the infection in the first place;
  9. Do not use sites you don’t trust. They are a potential source of malware.
  10. Use a VPN for iOS or Android to protect your phone from data snoopers and hackers. A VPN, or virtual private network, will encrypt your phone's online traffic and mask your IP address, allowing for a greater level of privacy while online.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

Can a phone be hacked while turned off?

The short answer is no, your phone cannot be hacked while it's turned off. Phone hacking, even remotely, only works if the device being targeted is on.

That doesn't mean you're personally safe from hackers while your devices are off. Criminals could spoof your number, making calls from their own devices and pretending to be you to try and extract information or money from other targets. And if your phone had been jailbroken, whoever jailbroke the phone could (in theory) install malware that would activate when the device was switched back on.

Yet for all intents and purposes, you should be confident that your phone will not be hacked while it's fully switch off.

Can hackers hack your phone by calling you?

No, not directly. A hacker can call you, pretending to be someone official, and so gain access to your personal details. Armed with that information, they could begin hacking your online accounts. But they can’t break into your phone's software and modify it through phone calls alone.

However, that's really a social engineering attack, rather than a direct phone hack. In real terms, phone calls themselves just don't have the power to spread malware or give hackers access to your device.

Is there an app to see if your phone has been hacked?

There are apps that will improve your device security by notifying you of unusual activity, to ensure that you’re making use of basic security features like Screen Lock, Face/Touch ID and two-factor authentication (2FA).

Specialized spyware apps are also available; these programs can trawl your phone for hidden malware and help you identify hacks early.

Browsing privately with a VPN

Using a VPN while connected to the internet is vital to staying away from trouble. It masks your IP address and encrypts your traffic, thus enhancing your privacy and security. Since hackers won’t be able to identify you online and monitor what you’re doing on your smartphone, they will have fewer ways to harm you.

VPN is also useful if you use public Wi-Fis, which are not always safe. It encrypts your traffic and you can browse safely wherever you are.

But don’t be enticed by free VPNs, as they usually have a hidden agenda behind their complimentary services. Most free VPN services may collect your data, use it for marketing purposes or even pass it to third parties.

NordVPN is an easy-to-use app designed for both novice and expert users. Not only does it provide you with top-notch encryption, but also blocks suspicious ads and pop-ups, which are a common way to distribute malware. NordVPN's Threat Protection feature helps you to identify malware-ridden files, stops you from landing on malicious websites, and blocks trackers and intrusive ads.

NordVPN also has the KillSwitch function, which will disconnect you from the web in case you lose a VPN connection. Moreover, a single NordVPN account allows you to protect up to 6 devices, so you could have your entire household protected.

If you’re looking to turn your smartphone into a fortress, a VPN service is the answer.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

Paulius Ilevičius
Paulius Ilevičius Paulius Ilevičius
Paulius Ilevičius is a technology and art enthusiast who is always eager to explore the most up-to-date issues in cybersec and internet freedom. He is always in search for new and unexplored angles to share with his readers.