How do you know if your phone has been hacked? And what can you do?

By Ritesh Chugh, Associate Professor, CQUniversity Australia

With almost 84 percent of the world’s population now owning a smartphone, and our dependence on them growing all the time, these devices have become an attractive route for scammers.

Last year, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky discovered nearly 3.5 million malicious attacks on cell phone users. The spam messages we receive on our phones via text message or email will often contain links to viruses, which are a type of malicious software (malware).

There is a decent chance that at some point you have installed malware that infected your phone and worked (without you noticing it) in the background.

According to a global report commissioned by the private company Zimperium, more than one-fifth of mobile devices have encountered malware. And four out of ten mobiles worldwide are vulnerable to cyber attacks.

But how do you know if your phone has been targeted? And what can you do?

How does a phone get infected?

Like personal computers, phones can be compromised by malware.

For example, the Hummingbad virus infected ten million Android devices within a few months of its creation in 2016, endangering as many as 85 million devices.

Typically, a telephone virus works in the same way as a computer virus: a malicious code infects your device, replicates itself, and spreads to other devices by automatically sending messages to others on your contact list or automatically forwarding itself as an email.

A virus can restrict the functionality of your phone, send your personal information to hackers, send your contacts spam messages that link to malware, and even allow the virus operator to “spy” on you by capturing your screen and keyboard inputs and tracking your geographic location


Scamwatch received 16,000 reports of the Flubot virus in just eight weeks in 2021. This virus sends text messages to Android and iPhone users with links to malware. Clicking on the links may lead to a malicious app being downloaded to your phone, giving scammers access to your personal information.

Flubot scammers regularly change their target countries. According to the cyber security firm Bitdefender, FluBot operators targeted Australia, Germany, Poland, Spain, Austria and other European countries between December 1, 2021 and January 2 this year.

Is either Apple or Android more secure?
While Apple devices are generally considered to be more secure than Android and less prone to virus attacks, iPhone users who “jailbreak” or change their phone open themselves up to security vulnerabilities.

Similarly, Android users who install apps outside of the Google Play Store increase their risk of installing malware. It is recommended that all phone users be vigilant as both Apple and Android are vulnerable to security risks.

That said,
Phones are generally better protected against viruses than personal computers. This is because software is usually installed through authorized app stores that control every single app (though some malicious apps may occasionally slip through the cracks).

Also in relation to computers, phones are more secure as apps are usually “sandboxed” in their own isolated environment – unable to access or interfere with other apps. This reduces the risk of infection or cross-contamination from malware. However, no device is completely immune.

Watch the signs

While it is not always easy to tell if your phone is infected, it will exhibit some abnormal behavior if that is the case.

Some signs you need to be aware of include:

* Poor performance, such as apps that take longer than usual to open or crash at random

* Excessive battery drain (due to malware constantly working in the background)

* Increased mobile data usage

* Unexplained billing fees (which may include increased data usage fees due to the malware chewing your data)

* Unusual pop-ups, and

* The unit overheats unexpectedly.

Steps to prevent damage

If you suspect that a virus has infected your device, there are some steps you can take. First, remove the malware to prevent further damage.
Here are some simple troubleshooting steps:

* Use a reliable antivirus app to scan your phone for infections. Some reputable providers that offer paid and free protection services include Avast, AVG, Bitdefender, McAfee or Norton.

Clear your phone’s storage and cache (on Android devices) or browser history and site data (on Apple devices).

* Restart your iPhone, or restart your Android phone to go into safe mode – which is a feature on Android that prevents third-party apps from working as long as it is enabled.

* Delete any suspicious or unknown apps from the list of downloaded apps, and if you are an Android user, turn off safe mode when apps are deleted.

* As a last resort, you can back up all your data and perform a factory reset on your phone. Resetting a phone to its original settings will remove any malware.

Protects your phone from infection
Now that you have fixed your phone, it is important to protect it from future viruses and other security risks. The mobile security apps mentioned above will help with this. But you can also:

* Avoid clicking on unusual pop-ups or links in unusual text messages, social media posts or emails

* Only install apps from authorized app stores, such as Google Play or the Apple App Store

* Avoid jailbreaking or changing your phone

* Check app permissions before installation so you are aware of what the app will access (instead of blindly trusting it)

* Back up your data regularly, and

* Keep your phone software updated to the latest version (which will have the latest security fixes).

Constantly monitor your phone for suspicious activity and trust your gut instincts. If anything sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

(This article is syndicated by PTI from The Conversation)