How can my mobile phone be hacked?
Criminals use many tricks to hack smartphones. Here are different ways they could hack your mobile device.
- Phishing attacks. In a phishing attack, a hacker sends you a familiar-looking email or text, hoping you’ll click the link inside. The link will download malware onto your phone or take you to a spoof website to steal your credentials or other personal details.
- Social engineering. Hackers can send you deceptive text messages (smishing), call you impersonating legitimate organizations (vishing), entice you with free mobile apps (baiting), or pretend to be someone you know on social media (impersonation). You never know what social engineering technique they’ll try. The goal is usually to convince you to disclose personal information, download malicious apps, or grant remote access to your device.
- Malware infection. Malware is any script or program installed onto your phone without your consent. You can accidentally download malware from an app store, suspicious sites, or emails. Malware can then collect sensitive data about you and spam you with ads (adware), record your location, internet usage, and other activity (spyware), or encrypt your device and demand a ransom (ransomware).
- Unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are often accessible without any password and don’t have any network encryption. Hackers can intercept the data exposed on the network and steal payment information or other sensitive data you transmit.
- Operating system and software vulnerabilities. Operating systems and apps have updates for a reason. Hackers can discover vulnerabilities in the system or software and exploit them to hack your device. System updates and security patches are released to close those vulnerabilities, but your device stays exposed if you don’t install those updates.
- Fake apps. Thousands of fake apps end up in app stores each year. While these apps look legitimate, they’re designed to infect your phone and steal your data or bandwidth.
- Jailbreaking or rooting vulnerabilities. Jailbreaking or rooting your phone enables you to customize your device, change fundamental features, and unlock more apps. But it’s also much easier to download malware to a rooted phone. Malicious software would also get all those unlocked privileges, bringing additional damage to your smartphone.
- Bluetooth security threats. Hackers can exploit Bluetooth vulnerabilities to discover your location, infect your smartphone with malware, or access your device.
How to secure your mobile device from hackers
You must address the mentioned security threats to secure your mobile devices from hackers. Here are some smartphone security practices you should implement to protect your device.
1. Set a strong password
Security of any device and account starts with a strong password. Your smartphone is no exception.
Set a robust combination of letters, numbers, and characters as your password to protect your mobile phone. Don’t use that combination anywhere else because data breaches often expose online accounts and could put your smartphone at risk.
This step is essential because the password on the newer Android smartphones and the passcode on iPhones serves as the basis for generating your phone’s encryption key. It makes the data on the smartphone unreadable to anyone trying to access it without the password.
If you own an older Android, you should set up phone encryption separately.
2. Enable biometric authentication
While a strong password is a must, using it whenever you want to unlock your phone would be tiring. You can usually use facial recognition or fingerprint for that.
Biometric authentication is a much more secure alternative to pattern unlocking, for example, since your biometric data is unique and cannot be guessed.
3. Keep your operating system and software updated
Continually update your smartphone’s operating system and apps to fix dangerous security flaws. You can enable automatic updates, but don’t press “Ignore” or “Postpone” when a system update requires your attention.
4. Be mindful of app permissions
Apps on your device can request access to your location, camera, microphone, files, or special rights, such as to install unknown apps. Always be careful when agreeing to such requests.
Apps with sensitive permissions could listen in on your conversations, take photos and videos without your consent, or keep track of your location at all times. That’s why granting unnecessary app permissions can be almost as dangerous as installing malware.
Audit apps’ permissions and pay attention to access requests when installing a new app.
5. Install a reliable mobile security app
You can use the most secure operating system, only download apps from the official app stores, and still fall for a phishing email or install a fake app. That’s why it’s worth having a fail-safe – a security app that protects your device when something goes wrong.
Enable NordVPN’s Threat Protection Lite feature to avoid sites hosting malicious content and install security software to prevent malware infection. It can help you avoid a hack when your other defenses fail.
6. Be careful on public Wi-Fi
Hackers abuse public Wi-Fi networks to intercept your connection or distribute malware. So you should use additional protection when browsing on such networks or avoid them altogether.
7. Enable remote phone tracking and wiping
iPhone and Android smartphones offer features to remotely find, lock, or wipe a lost or stolen device.
- Lost Mode on iOS lets you locate your device and update its contact information. You can do both by logging in to your iCloud account.
- Find My Device on Android lets you locale, lock, or wipe your device remotely. You can do it by logging in to your Google account.
8. Use two-factor authentication (2FA)
Since iPhone and Android smartphones are connected to iCloud or Google accounts, you can enable two-factor authentication for extra security. It can help protect your phone in case hackers steal your password.
9. Double-check links and downloads
Recognizing suspicious links, fake apps, and scam websites can significantly impact your mobile device security.
Scammers try to make the emails, websites, and calls look and sound as legitimate as possible, but some clues can give them away:
- Look for spelling mistakes, small changes to a familiar URL or sender ID, and unusual formatting.
- Verify with the company or sender. If you get an unexpected message from a bank or company, contact its helpline directly and ask if the text or email is genuine.
- Never give callers your passwords, online banking details, or personal information. If you already have, change your passwords and inform the institution being impersonated.
- Check app reviews before downloading anything, and don’t download apps from third-party stores or websites unless you absolutely trust them.
10. Encrypt your SD card
If you have an SD card on your device, encrypt it.
If cybercriminals steal your phone, they won’t be able to access data because of your smartphone’s encryption. But an unencrypted SD card is easy prey. Hackers can insert it into another device, and voilà, all your data is out in the open.
You can encrypt the SD card by going to the security settings on your phone. Back up your data beforehand because you may need to format your SD card (wipe all data) before encrypting it.
11. Hide or disconnect Bluetooth when not in use
Bluetooth connection is handy in many situations, but you don’t always need Bluetooth enabled.
Adjust your settings so your smartphone will only be visible to paired devices, and turn the Bluetooth off as soon as you’re done using it. After all, hackers can only take advantage of Bluetooth vulnerabilities if your device is in range and visible to them.
12. Delete old apps
Do you need all the apps on your phone? Old and outdated apps can open the door to your device to hackers. Not to mention, unused software clutters your phone and wastes your storage.
If you haven’t used some apps in months, delete them. When the app is tied to an online account, consider deleting the account too.
13. Back up your data
Backing up your data won’t necessarily protect your device from cybercriminals, but it can minimize the damage of an attack.
If hackers infect your device with certain types of ransomware, you can still hope to recover your phone with a factory reset. But even if the factory reset is successful, all your data will be lost.
So back up your files and apps regularly to prevent losing them. Doing so can save your data in case of a hack as well as phone theft, malfunction, or loss.
Android and iOS devices offer cloud solutions for backup (Google Drive and iCloud, respectively), but if you don’t trust their cloud security, you can always look for more secure storage. NordLocker is an excellent alternative, securing your data in the cloud with robust encryption.
14. Use a VPN
A high-quality VPN, like NordVPN, encrypts your data and hides your IP address, making it much more difficult for hackers to track you online. VPN encryption also helps prevent dangers on public Wi-Fi since hackers won’t intercept any plain text data.
Moreover, NordVPN’s Threat Protection Lite can prevent you from landing on phishing websites that steal your data or distribute malware. And you can cover up to six devices with one account, keeping your mobile devices protected along with computers, routers, and other devices.