How to prevent phone hacking and remove intruders from your device

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No one is safe from hacker attacks – especially if you’re using a smartphone. Even if you’ve been very careful not to download unauthorized apps or taken extra measures by installing privacy or security software like a VPN.

It goes without saying that data breaches can be very dangerous – if you think of the Pegasus scandal, for example. Cybercriminals can record your calls or conversations, track your location, and even activate your microphone and camera.

With spyware tools proliferating among authoritative regimes as well as ordinary citizens – often great computer knowledge isn’t even required to do so – it’s very important to take care of your mobile digital hygiene and know how to secure your smartphone’s defenses against potential hacks, or what to do if there are signs that your phone has been hacked.

In this article, we’ll cover both: what you need to do to stop and prevent intruders from accessing your mobile data, and what steps you can take in the event of a hack.

Common tactics used by hackers:

  • Phishing: This tactic involves sending targets malicious links and/or dangerous attachments via text messages and emails. Once the victim clicks on it, the phone is infected with malware to grab your data.
  • Tracking apps: Hackers can use spyware to collect data. Many of these apps might even be quite simple to install and use. Anyone can easily spy on your phone – all they need is a simple app.
  • Infiltrate public Wi-Fi and Bluetooth: Whenever you connect to public Wi-Fi, your personal data may be exposed. That’s why we recommend using one of the best mobile VPN services when connecting to an open wireless network. Likewise, hackers can break through Bluetooth connections.
  • Sim Swap: This tactic allows malicious actors to transfer your phone number to their own SIM card and take control of your accounts.

How to prevent your phone from being hacked

Here are some steps you should take to stay on top of your digital hygiene and protect your mobile data from malicious actors.

1. Track Software Updates

The first step for Securing your phone from snoopers makes their job harder. Hackers often exploit software vulnerabilities to break into your data.

So, even though the update process can be long and consume your memory, make sure you always use the latest version of the software to mitigate the risks.

2. Manage your app permissions

Even when your apps seem safe, they can still collect a lot of your sensitive data. They can track your location, access your microphone or your camera. Sometimes new updates can also make them more intrusive.

As a general rule, allow any new application to access only necessary information. For example, while you’re happy with Google Maps tracking your commute to work, your Spotify isn’t. You should also take some time to review all the settings of the apps installed on your phone.

3. Use mobile antivirus software

Although the received wisdom is that iPhone users do not need an antivirus to protect themselves from malware and viruses, the same is not true for those who use a mobile operating through an Android system. .

One of the best Android antivirus apps will run automatic malware scans, removing any threats they find. They will also actively help prevent you from clicking on malicious web pages and opening or downloading infected files in the first place.

4. Use a VPN to Access Public Wi-Fi

A common hacker tactic is to infiltrate your device through public Wi-Fi. For this reason, we recommend that you always use an iPhone VPN or Android VPN app when connecting to an open wireless network.

These services hide your IP address and location, while securing your data through encrypted tunnels (read more in our full guide to what a VPN is).

Some of our favorites include ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Surfshark – all of which have easy-to-use mobile apps. Plus, you can use your subscription to protect all your devices – from your mobile to your laptops, routers and TV streaming devices. It’s worth noting that Surfshark has no limit of connections you can use at a time, while Express allows five and Nord six.

Hand holding smartphone with VPN logo on screen

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

5. Avoid auto-login features

While it can save you a lot of time, staying logged into sensitive apps — like your online banking or email, for example — can be dangerous if a cybercriminal manages to hack into your phone. Ideally, you should always avoid auto-login for every app running on your device.

For the same reason, don’t use the same password for every app. You can also install password manager software to help make them even more secure.

6. Make it harder to physically access your phone

Not all data breaches happen in the digital world. It’s rare, of course, but sometimes intruders can just physically access your smartphone and steal your information.

State the obvious, but you should never leave your phone unattended in public. It is also recommended to always set the six-digit passcode to access the device. This is the most secure option you have, as fingerprints and facial biometrics are actually easier to hack.

Skull and crossbones on a smartphone

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

7. Activate the option “Find my device”

Did you not follow the instructions in point 6 above? Well if you do lose your phone, it is very important to be able to move it and erase any information that may be compromised. The good news is that you can do this easily from your computer.

Both Apple and Google run “Find My Device” services that allow you to locate your phone on a map as well as remotely lock or wipe sensitive data. Go to your smartphone settings and enable the feature.

8. Disable voice assistant on lock screen

Siri and Google Assistant are useful tools that save you typing time, but they can be a double-edged sword. If a cybercriminal gains physical access to your phone, they can use these services to bypass your password protection and infiltrate your contacts, chats, emails, and calls.

To protect the security of your mobile data, we suggest that you always disable the voice assistant option on the lock screen.

9. Beware of public charging stations

Public charging stations are a blessing – most of the time at least. While they’re really handy for emergencies when your battery level is at the last percent, they’re also an easy target for hackers. Cybercriminals can access your phone data or introduce malware to your device through a USB drive, experts warn (opens in a new tab).

This is why you should instead use an AC charging port whenever possible. In fact, AC outlets only transmit power rather than data. There are even charge-only adapters and data blockers that you can use.

Illustration of a Hacker in a Hoodie Using a Laptop

(Image credit: ozrimoz/Shutterstock)

What to do if you have been hacked

If you’ve read our article on the signs your phone has been hacked and you think you might be a victim, don’t panic. There are certain steps you can take to defeat the hacker and free your smartphone from danger.

1. Run anti-virus software

As stated earlier, malware removal and antivirus software are great for eliminating threats running on your device. Once you install it, keep it running in the background to avoid similar situation in the future. Good antivirus doesn’t even cost much these days, and the best value comes from comprehensive internet security suites that protect your entire range of devices.

2. Secure your credit card information

Check your transactions and report to your bank if you find any anomalies. Block your card, if necessary. You can also contact any e-commerce companies that have saved your credit card or bank account information on your phone app.

3. Remove Untrusted Apps

If hackers have broken into your phone, chances are they are doing so through a malicious app running in the background. That’s why you should review all installed apps and remove anything that looks suspicious – it only takes a few minutes.

4. Reset your device

It may help to completely reset your phone and erase any data, sinister apps, and/or malware on it. After backing up your important information to your laptop or cloud storage, go to settings and do a factory reset.

Yes, it’s a huge inconvenience and it means you have to reinstall your favorite apps and get your settings the way you like them again, but it’s your last resort if you just can’t get the bad guys out of your device.

5. Change all your passwords

If a cybercriminal gains access to your device, your passwords are very likely to have been exposed. This is why you should change all of your login credentials to ensure that your accounts are protected from any data breaches. It’s a whole bunch of new passwords to remember, but essential to reduce the risk of being hacked again.

6. Report to authorities

If you realize that you have been the victim of identity theft and/or you fear for your well-being, you should absolutely report the incidents to the authorities responsible for investigating digital crimes in your country.

If you live in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (opens in a new tab) is your reference. While those in the UK If you live in the UK you should contact Action Fraud (opens in a new tab)the national center for reporting fraud and crimes on the Internet.

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