Of course, the best overall strategy against hacking is to shore up your defenses to help you avoid getting hacked in the first place. In this article, we’ll show you how to spot cell phone hacking, common phone hacker techniques, and how to avoid them altogether.
Here are some signs of a hacked phone:
1. It’s running slower than usual
One of the most common hacked phone signs is a drop in performance. If websites are taking too long to load, or if your apps are suddenly crashing, malware may be hogging your phone’s bandwidth or processing power. You may also experience trouble with sending and receiving messages or when trying to turn your phone on and off.
2. Your phone feels hot
Does your phone ever feel hot, even when you haven’t been actively using it? Phones can heat up during prolonged periods of intensive use, like while streaming a movie or gaming for hours. But if it’s not you that’s causing your phone to heat up, it may be a phone hacker.
3. You’re draining battery faster than usual
If your phone’s battery is draining faster than usual, check if you have a lot of apps open in the background. Background apps can burn through lots of data, and you can save battery power by restricting background app data.
There are many ways to make your battery last longer, but if everything is otherwise normal, shorter battery life may be one of the signs of a hacked phone.
4. Service disruptions
It isn’t uncommon for a dropped call or bad connection to happen occasionally. But if service disruptions have become increasingly regular, it may be time to ask: Is my phone hacked?
5. Strange pop-ups
If you’re seeing a lot more pop-up ads than usual, your cell phone may be infected with adware, a type of malicious software that inundates you with ads. Remember, never tap any suspicious ads or links — it’s best to scan your device with a free adware cleaner.
6. Websites look different
Sometimes Google changes the look of their homepage for a special day, but if you’re noticing that many sites look different than they usually do, it could signify a hacked iPhone or Android.
Malware on your phone could be acting as a proxy between you and the web, redirecting your traffic to other sites. Knowing how to check if a website is safe can help you protect yourself.
7. New apps appear
While we’ve all downloaded apps we immediately forget about, one of the signs a phone hacker has accessed your phone may be the presence of apps you don’t recognize. In a messy phone library, a single extra app with malicious intent may go unnoticed.
If you see an unfamiliar app, look it up online — you may need to remove malware from your phone. And make sure to assess apps for safety before downloading them.
8. Apps stop working properly
If your apps are frequently quitting, or your phone is regularly freezing up, it may be because your phone was hacked and malware is hogging your phone’s resources.
Poor performance could also signal that you need to update your phone’s software, which is essential for phone security. But before shelling out for a new phone, try our tips to speed up your iPhone or boost your Android.
9. You receive unknown calls and texts
It’s unlikely that someone can hack into your phone with a regular call — but phone hackers can use text messages to infect your phone.
For example, someone can hack your iPhone if they send you a phishing text and you click a suspicious link. But there are also iPhone message hacks that exploit interaction-less iOS bugs, which don't require you to click anything for your phone to get infected. You can help protect against these security exploits by using an encrypted messaging app and the other trusted iPhone security apps.
If someone tells you that you’ve called or texted them when you haven’t, it’s possible your cell phone has been hacked. Conversely, inform friends and family if you receive strange messages or calls from them.
10. Running out of data
If you’re noticing unexplained spikes in your data usage, someone might be stealing your data for an attack. A hacked iPhone or Android device can use your data to transmit information collected from your phone.
11. Unexpected bill charges
If you have unexpected charges that your phone company can’t account for, they may be coming from the extra data usage described above. If someone is using your phone remotely, they could be calling people or using premium services. Mysterious charges should be investigated to rule out cell phone hacking.
Fleeceware apps can charge outrageous subscription fees and may also be the cause of your billing issues. These apps usually lure you in with a free trial, which turns into a paid subscription a few days later. If you find one of these on your phone, unsubscribe from within the app — simply deleting it won’t work.
Protect your phone against threats with AVG AntiVirus for Android or AVG Mobile Security for iPhone. Both apps offer an additional layer of protection against hackers and will help secure your phone and protect your personal information.
The techniques phone hackers use
So how are these hackers able to get into your phone in the first place? The most dangerous and famous hackers use a mix of technical wizardry and social engineering tricks to exploit the humans behind the phones.
Phone hackers can use a variety of techniques to infiltrate your mobile device.
Here are some of the most common techniques hackers use to hack phones:
Phishing involves using social engineering tactics to fool you into disclosing personal information. A phishing attack can be simple, like an email with a link that says, “FREE!” and that directs you to a malicious site. Many of today’s hackers use phishing attacks in their campaigns.
Or it can be a more complex scheme, like an online quiz that tells you which Disney princess you are based on your birthday, your mother’s maiden name, and the name of your first pet — answers that the attacker can then use to try to break into your accounts.
Phishing can also be highly-targeted. Spear phishing is a type of phishing attack that focuses on tricking one specific individual into revealing private information. Focused attacks against executives or other senior leadership figures are known as whaling.
One sneaky way to infect a cell phone with malware is to convince someone to download an app with hidden tracking features. This app may be disguised as a game, a productivity app, or even one promising security, when it’s actually a spyware app tracking your online activities and personal data. Some Android spyware can even spy when your phone is off.
Another type of malicious software for your phone is stalkerware, which tracks your movements, browsing, messages, and calls. Stalkerware is usually installed by someone close to you — for example, when parental control apps are used in this way, they are considered stalkerware.
Make sure to remove spyware from your Android and get rid of spying apps on your iPhone.
Many two-factor authentication (2FA) procedures confirm your login with a text message sent to your phone. With SIM swapping, hackers try to convince your service provider that your phone number actually needs to be swapped over to a different SIM card (the hacker’s). That way, they’ll receive your 2FA confirmation messages.
SIM swapping scams usually start with phishing attempts designed to give the hacker information to impersonate you to the service provider. With enough of your personal info, a phone hacker can use your phone number to initiate a SIM swap.
While it’s unlikely someone can hack into your phone by calling you, you should still protect your phone number: an unknown call now may be part of a hacking plot for later.
Cybercriminals can use phishing or other techniques to access your iCloud or Google account. Many people have these accounts linked to their social media, which can be exploited to access a trove of personal data. With unauthorized access to your accounts, a hacker can see your location information and view your emails, messages, and keychains.
A wireless Bluetooth connection conveniently links your devices, but makes your phone more vulnerable to cyber crime. Phone hackers can use software to intercept a bluetooth signal and gain access to your phone. Don’t pair your cell phone with a device you don’t trust, or in an unsecure location.
Similar to Bluetooth, hackers can also use a Wi-Fi connection to gain access to your iPhone or Android device. In particular, using public Wi-Fi networks is risky, as they may have been set up by a malicious actor waiting for you to connect. It’s also important to change the default password of your home Wi-Fi network to prevent router hacking.
You can protect yourself on public Wi-Fi by setting up a mobile VPN on iPhone or Android. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts your connection to prevent bad actors from being able to access your phone.
Think twice before charging your cell phone at a public charging station. The so-called juice jacking scam infects these stations with malware to target people running low on battery power.
An infected charging station does more than give you a power boost. The malware spreads to your phone, where it can monitor what you do, collect and transmit your private data, and even make a withdrawal from your bank account.
Trojans are malware that masquerade as harmless apps or files in order to trick you into opening them. They can spy on you, create a backdoor into your system, use your phone in a botnet, or send malicious SMS messages. Trojans are especially sneaky forms of malware because they’re designed to gain your trust and go unnoticed.
Avoid hacker tricks and ploys with a cybersecurity app from a trusted provider. AVG AntiVirus for Android and AVG Mobile Security for iPhone keep your phone safe from malicious activity, ensuring that your device, data, and apps are always protected.
Cryptopjacking is the unauthorized use of a victim's device to mine cryptocurrency without their knowledge or consent. Mining cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, requires substantial computing power. Hackers can infect your phone and secretly install crypto mining malware, which uses your phone’s resources to mine cryptocurrency and send it directly to their digital crypto wallet.
Lost in the tech terminology? Study up on all the lingo with our guide to cybersecurity terms.
What to do if your phone is hacked
If your phone is hacked, it’s crucial to act quickly to mitigate the potential damages and stop the threat — to you and to your contacts. Here’s what to do if your phone is hacked:
Disconnect your phone from the internet. Turn off Wi-Fi and mobile data connections to break any potential ties between your phone and the hacker. This will stop further device access and data theft.
Remove suspicious apps. Whether you installed a new app shortly before the hacking or if new apps suddenly appear, uninstall them. They might contain malware or could have triggered the hacking.
Run an anti-malware scan. A reputable anti-malware or antivirus scan can detect and remove malware on Android phones or iPhones. Check out some of the best free antivirus apps available.
Factory reset your phone. Try doing a factory reset on your phone to reset system settings, get rid of infected self-installed apps, and help remove malware. A reset also clears all your other data, so back up your important files and apps beforehand.
If your phone is hacked, turn off Wi-Fi, uninstall suspicious apps, and run an anti-malware scan. You can also reset your phone to factory settings.
Protect your phone against hacking
The best strategy to protect your phone against hacking is prevention. It can be difficult to reverse the fallout from a cyberattack, so it’s better to avoid one altogether. Here are some ways to add additional layers of protection to prevent phone hacking:
Install important updates. Operating system and app software updates include security patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities.
Use strong passwords. This includes enabling 2FA on all your online accounts. If you need help, learn how to create strong passwords.
Use a VPN. A VPN encrypts your web traffic whenever you’re connected to the internet, which helps stop snoops — especially on public Wi-Fi.
Clear your cache. Hackers can steal sensitive data stored in your cache or inject it with malicious code. Regularly clearing your cache on Android or iPhone can reduce your attack surface.
Reduce the amount of personal data on your phone. The more personal data stored on your phone, the bigger the prize for hackers. Use our guide to Android app permissions> to help you reduce how much you store.
Turn off Bluetooth. Bluetooth is another attack vector from which hackers can gain unauthorized access to your phone. Disable Bluetooth when not in use and don’t trust unknown Bluetooth devices.
Change your SIM Pin. SIM cards often have a default pin code that can easily be hacked. Changing your SIM pin can prevent hackers from gaining unauthorized access to your SIM and your mobile network.
Prevent hacks with AVG AntiVirus
Even if you’re careful, hackers are constantly building new hacking tools to get into your devices. If you’re an iPhone user, AVG Mobile Security for iPhone/iPad will keep you safe by automatically checking that your Wi-Fi network is secure, as well as monitoring online databases to ensure none of your passwords have been stolen.
AVG also offers powerful protection for Android devices. AVG AntiVirus for Android protects your phone from malware, unsolicited calls, and other malicious behaviors. It also gives you additional anti-hacking protection by locking apps with sensitive information.
What is the iPhone message hack?
An iPhone message hack can refer to hacking incidents related to exploiting iPhone’s messaging service, iMessage. Though touted for its security, there have been a number of notable iMessage hacks. A “zero-click attack” can even hack an iPhone via iMessage using a text that doesn’t need to be opened.
Can someone hack my phone by calling me?
It’s unlikely that your phone can get hacked through a call, but phone calls can be part of a larger social engineering or hacking attack. In phone-based phishing (vishing), attackers can pose as legitimate entities or IT support in order to trick you into revealing personal data — like login credentials or credit card details — that can be used for hacks.
Can my phone be hacked via text message?
Yes, your phone can be hacked via text messages. Attackers can send you malicious links or attachments in a text message that, once clicked or downloaded, can install malware on your phone. This can result in unauthorized access to your device or data theft.
Can someone hack into my phone remotely?
Yes, it’s possible to remotely hack a phone — but it’s rare. Hacking a phone requires a combination of sophisticated techniques and exploiting security vulnerabilities in the device’s OS or applications. An infamous example of a remote hacking technique is Pegasus spyware.
Can someone hack my phone from my number?
No, you can’t directly hack a phone by a number only, but it can be used as part of a social engineering attack or a SIM swap. Still, even these techniques require more information or steps beyond just knowing your phone number.