Five ways hackers gain access to your phone and what you can do to prevent them
Our smartphones are private diaries of our everyday lives. We store all kinds of personal information in them, from our bank details to photos of our nearest and dearest.
This information, however, can be valuable to hackers, who may want to target us for a multitude of reasons. Whether it’s for blackmail, bullying, spying, fraud or identity theft, our phones can very easily be turned into weapons that hackers will use against us.
There are several ways a hacker might gain access to your phone, some more sophisticated than others, but by taking a few simple precautions, you could stop them in their tracks. Here are some common methods used by phone hackers.
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Hackers often trick their victims into handing over their personal details by setting up fake websites that imitate those of big companies. They might send an email encouraging you to click on links, download apps or type in your log-in information whereby they can gain access to your phone.
Before complying with such requests, you should look out for certain red flags that indicate the fraudulent nature of the email. Does the email of the sender match the email addresses associated with the company? Does the website URL look suspicious? Is the link you’ve clicked on trying to automatically download files onto your phone?
Ask yourself these questions before proceeding to give away any information, especially if you are being asked to type in usernames, passwords or bank details.
Hackers might set up a fake app to gain access to files on your phone. Whenever you download an app, you’re usually asked to give it permission to access things like your camera, microphone, photos, videos, location and browser history.
Most apps will need you to grant these permissions so that you can use features like video chat or to allow you to upload pictures taken on your camera. They also use these permissions for marketing purposes that should be outlined in their terms and conditions.
For example, an app might use AI to listen to your conversations through your microphone to send you targeted advertising based on the topics you talk about. However, a fake app might use the same permissions to literally spy on you, so take care when downloading apps and always check your permission settings for each app.
Hackers could get you to click on a link that downloads malware onto your phone. This is often done through phishing. While this malware could monitor your activity on your phone, it could also track your GPS to find out where you’re going.
Another simpler way for hackers to do this is in person. You may unknowingly leave your phone unattended with someone who might know your pin code, a jealous partner perhaps. They could, without your knowledge, download a tracking app onto your phone that gives them access to your GPS and allows them to see your location from their own phone.
The best way to dodge this scenario is to make sure you do not leave your phone unattended in places you are not familiar or with people you do not trust.
Hackers will often dupe you into revealing information about yourself through many conniving ways, sometimes even through conversation. They might ask you random questions like ‘what is your mother’s maiden name?’ or ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ to try and guess your secret question-answer combination.
Should they get enough information about you, they could actually gain access to your online accounts or even learn to imitate you. If they hack into your social media accounts, you’d usually get an email about a suspicious log-in, but how they’d get around that will mainly depend on how much information you’ve told them.
They could even call your network provider and convince them that they are actually you and ask to have your phone number transferred to a new SIM card. That way, your SIM card would automatically deactivate and the hacker will take control of your phone number, so be careful what you tell people, especially if it’s someone you don’t know.
Hackers could gain access to your device by hacking into your bluetooth. For them to do this, your bluetooth would have to be turned on and they would have to be within close proximity to you.
Nonetheless, by accessing your bluetooth, hackers could potentially download files from your device onto theirs without you ever knowing. This kind of attack is more likely to take place in a crowded place, while victims of such an attack are likely to be targeted, although victims could also be picked out at random in any crowded setting.
Logging onto a public WiFi exposes you to similar dangers. Those who administer the WiFi connection or anyone who has hacked the network could potentially gain access to your screen, or even take control of your device. The answer to this is to turn your WiFi and Bluetooth off whenever you’re not using it and only connect to networks that you trust.
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