When you hear the words “hacked” or “hacker”, there’s a good chance that the first thing you think of is a computer intrusion. However, cybercriminals have figured out that there is a much more lucrative target than home computers: your cell phone.
About 81% of Americans have a smartphone. And reportedly, the average user will check their phone more than 50 times a day. All that use gives us plenty of time to load sensitive information onto our devices, including personal passwords and credit card information.
Yet many users underestimate the risk that is posed to their phones and find themselves the subject of attacks. And many of the more clever hackers won’t even alert you until it’s too late.
Minimizing damage requires knowing beforehand what to do if your phone has been hacked, how to identify threats, and how to prevent them.
So What to Do If Your Phone Has Been Hacked?
The first step to responding to an attack is determining if one has happened. One of the tell-tale indications if your device suddenly starts running extremely slowly.
This is because, with malicious software, the idea is that they operate in the background. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. But even though you can’t see what the program is doing, it’s still drawing on your phone’s resources as any legitimate app would.
Another indication is increased data usage. Malicious software doesn’t stop working just because you’re away from your wifi router, so if you notice that you’re burning through a lot of extra data that you can’t account for, that’s a good sign that your phone is carrying malware.
Unfortunately, once you’ve determined that your phone is carrying malware, most casual users won’t have the skills to manually rout it out. You might get lucky by uninstalling recently added apps or any unfamiliar software that you find, but good malware is usually harder to remove than that.
Instead, you will need to install anti-virus software on your device to remove the offending software. Once installed, just let it carry out its work.
If you’ve tried professional security apps and are still suffering from malware, then the only option left may be a factory reset.
Depending on what device you use, this option will be buried somewhere in the settings menu. It will completely reset your phone to factory settings, deleting all apps and other data stored on your phone. For this reason, it’s basically the nuclear option, and should be saved as a last resort.
What If You Have Been Subject to a Ransomware Attack?
If you have been the subject of a ransomware attack, you won’t have to wait long to find out.
What is ransomware? In so many words, it is a type of malware that is designed to deny user access to their device.
Hackers deploy it to lock the user out of the devices, and then “ransom” access back to them in exchange for money. It’s currently one of the fastest-growing types of cybercrime.
So what to do if you’ve been targeted? Well according to the FBI, the first step is to never pay the ransom. Not only does it encourage criminals to keep carrying out attacks, but there are even odds that they won’t bother to restore access to your device anyway.
As ransomware is designed to prevent access to your phone, often installing security software or a decryptor isn’t feasible. An IT specialist may be able to recover some encrypted files for you, but oftentimes a factory reset is the only avenue open. That is why prevention is critical.
The Best Remedy Is Prevention
Rather than trying to figure out what to do if your phone has been hacked, it is always preferable to prevent a security breach in the first place. And simple precautions can help you more than you might think.
Most malware is designed quickly to exploit common security oversights. By taking simple steps like using antivirus software, a VPN, avoiding public wifi and charging stations, and storing passwords in encrypted files, you can foil most attacks before they even begin.
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