December 27, 2012

How to tell if your phone has been hacked [UPDATED]

Man using cell phone

We all know that smart devices are pretty clever these days, but does your smartphone or tablet seem to have a mind of its own? If you suspect that it does, it may be infected with mobile malware.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to identify if your device is impacted:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.02.13 AM Is your phone acting out of the norm? If your phone starts interrupting you with obtrusive advertising, sending text messages by itself your phone might be compromised. Malware is written to secretly control your device, and malicious apps have loose permissions that allow them to control more aspects of your device than it seems.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.10.05 AM Are you noticing odd app icons on your phone? Some malware installs further applications to a device, which can be benign or malicious. If you notice any odd app icons on your phone, delete the app. If it’s an app you really think you want, you can always download it from an official app store just to be safe.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.10.11 AMIs your phone locked and demanding money to unlock it? It might seem like an obvious one, but there is a type of malware called “ransomware” that will lock down your device and demand you pay up in order to get access again — holding it ransom. It oftentimes locks the device with an image from a familiar government agency, such as the FBI or CIA, or uses other scare-tactics to get victims to pay.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.10.17 AMDid you recently accept an application download you didn’t prompt? Sometimes sneaky emails and text messages will trick you into downloading applications you didn’t intend to download. If you recently accepted a prompt to download an app, you may want to check if the text message or the email was really from the person or company you thought it was from.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.10.26 AMNotice unfamiliar charges on your phone bill? A lot of us ask this question anyway, but it’s a good idea to regularly check the charges on your phone bill. Are there small but significant charges on it that you don’t recognize? Some malware is programmed to send paid SMS messages that get charged to your phone bill and deposited into the bank account of the malware writer.

What should I do?

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, you can check if your phone has malware by using Lookout to check for any malicious applications. You can download Lookout for free from from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Lookout will tell you if your phone is infected by a malicious application so you can delete it and get your phone back to normal.

You should also follow these simple tips to keep your mobile experiences safe and sound:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.02.13 AMKeep the software on your device up to date. Malware authors design their malicious apps to take advantage of weaknesses in the software running on your device. By keeping that software up to date, you minimize your risk of being a victim of malware.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.10.05 AM Don’t download apps from third-party marketplaces. In the case of mobile apps, its always best to use official app stores, such as the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. If you want to minimize risk of encountering malware, don’t download from random download sites you haven’t heard of before.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.10.11 AM Be careful where you click. Some malware comes embedded in drive-by-download website links, SMS messages, spoofed emails, etc. that may automatically download a malicious app to your device without your prior approval. Safe Browsing in Lookout Premium will warn you of malicious sites.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.10.17 AM Download a mobile security app to protect you. Downloading a security app, like Lookout, that has app and link scanning capabilities will help you be safer and better protected on your mobile device.

106 comments
  1. Chris Milton says:

    I was using Safari on my iPhone surfing the web when I got a message pop up saying a government agency had taken control if my phone. When I pressed ok another came up telling me to pay a fine. This happened over & over but it had not stopped. How do I know if this was a hack & whether they are still in my phone?

  2. marshallfox says:

    What numbers hacked me

  3. Janice Venberg says:

    I was sitting here looking at my home page on my GS4 and the screen scrolled left and my instagram Icon moved as if someone deleted it. Does someone else have access to my phone?

    • Meghan Kelly says:

      Hi Janice, I’m not sure what’s going on here. If you think you’ve been impacted by malware, please feel free to reach out to our support team: support [at] lookout [dot] com

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