Good news - the trend of cellphone hacking has declined dramatically in the last few years.
Bad news - despite this, the latest data suggests there are still over 2 million cellphone cyberattacks per year.
The risk is real, with hackers potentially able to steal your identity, access private accounts from social media to banking, and deny you access to your own information.
The key to protecting your phone from hackers is understanding how they work. Unfortunately, there are many ways your phone can be hacked, including:
So, it's important to be aware of both the physical and online threats to your phone security and take the relevant steps to block hackers from gaining access to your devices.
You may be wondering how you can tell your phone has been hacked. If expert cybercriminals can gain access to your device so effortlessly, then surely they also know how to do so without being detected?
Well, it's true that hackers certainly understand the art of subtlety when it comes to breaking into your phone. However, some telltale signs can give them away.
Some of the signs your phone has been hacked include:
If you spot any of these signs on your phone, it's important to identify the compromised app or account and secure it as soon as possible.
It's also recommended to take further steps - including changing all passwords and installing security software such as two-factor authentication - to protect against future attacks, too.
To secure your phone against hackers - or to remove malicious software - you need to be aware of the most common threats to your device...
Malware is the general term for malicious programs designed to damage your phone.
Cybercriminals use malware to gain access to valuable private data, such as personal or financial information. It can also be used to bring your device down and prevent users from accessing apps or data.
According to the latest data available from Kaspersky, 1,661,743 instances of cellphone malware or unwanted software installers were detected in 2022 alone.
And while this trend is actually down on previous years (from 3,464,756 in 2021, which was already down from 5,683,694 in 2020), it still represents a significant threat to phone users.
Each of these over one million people represents a victim of phone hacking which may have resulted in compromised data, a broken device, or even financial losses.
Due to online connectivity and modern cellphone technology, malware can impact anyone around the world. It's even possible for scammers to hack users remotely, from different countries than their own.
However, phone malware attacks are still more common in some countries than others. According to the same report from Kaspersky, China is the country in which phone users are most likely to experience a malware attack.
Data reveals that 17.7% of reported Kaspersky mobile malware instances were detected in China - with over 16% of these coming from the same SMS malware.
Among the other countries that are most commonly hit by cellphone malware attacks are Syria (15.61%), Iran (14.53%), Yemen (14.39%), and Iraq (8.44%) - suggesting that there is a significant risk of these hacks in Middle Eastern regions.
According to Zimperium's 2023 Global Mobile Threat Report, you are most likely to experience a mobile malware attack in March - with August and November being the second and third most popular months for attacks.
The mobile security specialists also found that June was the month in which the fewest mobile malware attacks are detected.
Viruses are a type of malware designed to infect smartphones and spread through their operating systems to cause as much damage as possible. Like other types of malware, viruses are used to steal sensitive information or even to make devices unusable.
Smartphone viruses act in the same way as on computers and other devices - exploiting security vulnerabilities or using social engineering scams to gain access to the phone's operating system.
Once they have exploited the device, they are designed to spread through its operating system - causing as much damage as possible.
The risks of phone viruses include stolen data - which can lead to financial fraud, ransoms, and more - unwanted activity, such as the downloading of apps, text and call spam, and performance issues, such as a slow or even unresponsive device.
To protect your phone from viruses, you need to understand they work - most commonly through exploiting weaknesses in device security or through social engineering.
Installing antivirus software, keeping apps and operating systems updated, and avoiding suspicious apps or downloads are the most effective ways to avoid a virus breach.
However, it's also helpful to learn the common signs of phishing scams and always use strong passwords to avoid giving access to your phone to unwanted users.
Trojans are specific types of viruses named after the tactics they use to exploit smartphones.
Trojan viruses are types of malware designed to appear as helpful tools while disguising their true intention to cause damage to devices and users - named after the famous Trojan Horse, in which members of the Greek army hid to gain unauthorized access to the city of Troy.
For example, imagine an app that offers access to hundreds of games when downloaded. Users may install this app to their system, where it gains unauthorized access to data, permissions, and more.
Once downloaded, it acts similarly to other viruses - stealing sensitive data, making unwanted changes to the phone's operating system, and causing performance issues.
Smartphone trojan viruses are often detected through unwanted behavior that begins appearing on the device - such as sent messages, new and unwanted apps, and performance issues.
However, in extreme situations, you may even notice your device has a trojan virus when you fall victim to financial or identity fraud.
If this happens, you must act quickly to remove the app or download that contains the virus, as well as taking other security measures such as downloading firewalls and updating passwords.
While anyone around the world can be hit by a smartphone trojan virus, attacks are more popular in certain countries than others.
The latest Kaspersky data shows cellphone banking trojans are most commonly detected in Spain - with Saudi Arabia, Australia, Turkey, and China also proving popular locations for attacks.
This suggests the hacking technique is a common one worldwide and phone users everywhere should be vigilant to spot the signs of suspicious downloads.
As its name suggests, ransomware hacks are designed to extort unfortunate victims.
Ransomware is a type of malware that infects devices and encrypts data, before demanding a ransom from the owner to regain access to their files and data.
It's similar to most malware in that it hacks devices to gain unauthorized access to their data. However, while other malware types may use this data for fraud, advertising, or other malicious intent, ransomware is financially motivated.
Users can tell if they have been hacked with phone ransomware, as they typically won't be able to access their operating system as usual and will instead be met with a message demanding a ransom fee, along with payment information and often a countdown timer.
Protecting your cellphone against ransomware is similar to securing against other malware types - including downloading security software and being careful to avoid suspicious apps or downloads.
However, it's also encouraged to regularly back up your phone data, so you can restore the device to factory settings without losing your important information, if needed.
The clue is in the name - spyware is designed to hack and monitor information on your phone.
Spyware is a type of malware designed to gain unauthorized access to data on your cellphone. Hackers often use spyware to gain access to specific information, such as photos and videos, texts and calls, location and other personal data, and even to record keystrokes on your device.
This information may be used for a range of malicious purposes, such as identity fraud, stalking, and monitoring employees.
Spyware is one of the most difficult malware types to detect on your phone, as hackers often don't change anything on your system or encrypt your data - they simply monitor your behavior.
However, it is possible to detect spyware on your phone. One sign of spyware could be your battery draining quicker than usual - as the malware uses power in the background. Similarly, reviewing the apps on your phone and checking their permissions may reveal suspicious software or spyware.
If you're worried you may have been hacked with spyware, install security software designed to detect malware - then consider backing up your data before performing a factory reset of your phone.
According to the Zimperium study, spyware represents a threat globally - with a relatively consistent distribution of attacks across continents.
However, most spyware hacks can be detected in Europe, The Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) (35.4%), while South American countries (19.4%) are at the least risk of spyware attacks.
Phishing scams are slightly different from other types of malware, as they typically rely on the victim to fall for social tricks or tactics.
Phishing scams are social engineering techniques designed to trick users into giving away sensitive data via text messages, calls, or other communication apps.
Some simple examples of phishing scams include fake text messages from friends designed to coax victims into replying with private information, while more complex scams can include fraudulent emails with links that take users to a dangerous website or cause them to download malware.
It's possible to avoid phishing scams simply by being aware of the common signs of fraudulent messages, and avoiding giving out personal information over the phone.
Hackers often pose as recognized and trusted brands to trick victims into clicking links or sending personal information. So, being aware of the most phished brands may help you avoid being hacked.
According to Zimperium data, The US Postal Service (USPS) is the most phished brand in North America - with over a quarter of all phishing scams detected including fake USPS branding (28.4%).
Microsoft Office is the second-most-phished brand, with hackers looking to take advantage of the trusted reputation of the software provider. Data suggests that banks also feature heavily among the most phished brands.
With phishing scams relying so heavily on trust to trick their victims, it's no wonder these established and widely used brands appear so commonly in hacking attempts.
Robocalls and robotexts are often used for high-volume scamming and hacking attempts.
Robocalls and robotexts are large-scale, high-volume calls or texts sent to phones from an automated computer system.
They are designed to trick people into providing sensitive information - often personal and financial - by posing as legitimate organizations. This information is then typically used to hack the victim's accounts and devices.
For example, hackers may use a robocall scam to pose as a bank - asking victims to provide their account details so they can perform routine checks. If the victim provides the information, the hackers have full access to their bank account.
The best way to stop robocalls and robotexts is to block numbers as soon as you receive unwanted communications. Also, installing call- and text-blocking apps can help filter out unrecognized or suspicious numbers.
However, it may not always be possible to block all incoming robocalls or texts - so, it's important to be aware of the common signs of these scams to avoid falling victim. No bank or financial provider will ever ask for your account details over the phone, so never provide them if someone asks.
According to the latest research available from Robokiller, there are over 225 billion robotexts received by Americans per year, as well as over 78 billion robocalls.
The data also reveals that, while the number of robocalls is slowing compared with previous years, the number of robotexts is rapidly increasing - suggesting phone users should be aware when receiving text from unexpected contacts or unknown numbers.
The Robokiller report also reveals how much money is lost to these scams each year - with over $65 billion lost to robocalls and over $20 billion lost to robotexts.
This suggests an interesting trend, with robotexts being much more common but less likely to be successful - and highlights the need for phone users to be extra cautious when accepting calls from unknown numbers and providing personal information over the phone.
Texas is the worst US state for receiving spam calls, with an estimated 448 spam calls per resident. Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina, and Illinois complete the top five states for the most spam calls received per person.
When it comes to spam texts, residents of Georgia are seemingly most at risk, with an estimated 1,391 spam texts received per person each year - with Washington D.C., South Dakota, Arkansas, and South Carolina also featuring in the top five states most at risk.
|Estimated spam texts 2022
|Estimated spam texts per person
Interestingly, Georgia features in the top two (first for texts, second for calls) states at most risk of roboscams per person, suggesting residents should practice the most caution when it comes to unknown numbers or suspicious messages.
Now we've covered the most common ways hackers may try to target your phone - and how to spot the common signs of each type of malware or scam - you may be wondering what to do if you think your phone has been hacked.
Removing viruses from your phone is often simpler than doing so on a PC or other devices, due to the built-in security features on iPhones and Android phones, as well as the limited system access available to apps on these devices.
Removing viruses from iPhones and Androids follows a similar process, with only one main difference - Android phones allow you to reboot in 'Safe Mode' to disable third-party apps.
To remove viruses from your phone, follow these steps:
Removing ransomware from your phone can be more difficult than other types of malware, as these viruses typically encrypt the device's files and data and prevent you from accessing parts of the system you need.
For this reason, ransomware is usually removed by performing a factory reset of the phone, removing all apps or files, and wiping the device clean. This is why it's important to regularly back up your phone data, so, you don't lose your files if you ever need to reset your device.
Phone security apps are one of the best ways to protect a phone (and more importantly your personal information) from bugs, viruses, and other nasty types of malware.
But with so many security applications available on both Android and iOS, it can be hard to understand which apps offer the best range of security measures at a competitive price.
Some of our top picks available on iPhone and Android are listed below.
Bitdefender is one of the best all-round security apps for Android and iOS. Not only is it easy to use, but it's kind on your battery level and scans both apps and files on your phone to detect malware.
It's proven to catch roughly 99% of software viruses with cloud-based threat detection for peace of mind.
However, while some features are available for free, most of its key tools, like ransomware detection and a VPN, are locked behind its paid plan.
Norton is a popular app for detecting suspicious activity - monitoring apps and flagging those that are using more power than required or performing other irregular functions.
Norton also comes with a host of extra features, like Wi-Fi monitoring, suspicious network detection, and SMS security - protecting you from potential scam text messages.
Norton doesn't automatically screen phone numbers, however, leaving users open to potential scam calls. Norton also has a limited backup tool, which may leave you vulnerable to potential data loss.
When it comes to performance for price, Avast is our winner - offering features like a customizable blacklist, operating system optimizer, and top-quality malware protection.
Avast boasts an impressive ability to remain unintrusive, with little effect on battery life while active.
Still, its anti-theft functionality can be unreliable, leaving a device potentially vulnerable if stolen.
VPNs are a must-have for anyone browsing on the go. Not only do they provide essential protection against unrecognized networks, but also they give users much-needed anonymity by encrypting data leaving a device.
Surfshark also boasts excellent download and upload speeds while the VPN is active, making it one of the best tools for speedy data transfer.
Below is our round-up of the best phone security apps on a budget.
The free version of Avira comes with a range of features including malware scanning and a limited VPN. It also includes an essential smart scan tool to optimize phone performance, as well as a call blocker.
However, Avira falls short in its lack of web protection for free users, and a paid firewall. This makes it great for phone security, but not safe browsing.
PC Protect is a simple app that can be used in addition to other antivirus software. The free version includes a malware scanner and a cleaner to declutter excess or unused files to make room for device storage.
While the app itself has an intuitive user interface, it's not available on the Google Play store, and instead, the APK file must be downloaded from the website.
TotalAV is an impressive app, with a free version that offers key features such as Malware detection and WebShield to block users from visiting malicious websites.
It's also a great option for users who aren't well-versed in technology due to its simple and easy-to-use interface.
However, the free version doesn't include a VPN, so this antivirus software is best paired with another reputable VPN application.
For a completely free VPN, you can't go wrong with Proton VPN. Proton offers free access to its servers in the Netherlands, the US, and Japan. This makes it a great choice for encryption and IP masking.
However, it's only through its paid version that access to other countries is enabled, so it may not be the best choice if you wish to browse from a perspective outside of the US, Netherlands, or Japan.
There has been a long-running debate between Android and iPhone users about which device operating system is best for overall cellphone security.
But with a wide range of factors to consider - such as internal device security, web security, and theft protection - it can be difficult to truly judge which is the better option.
Before talking about the potential vulnerabilities, it's important to discuss the strengths of each operating system:
While both Apple and Google have made significant strides in improving security functions across devices, both still suffer from a list of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs).
According to Zimperium, the number of vulnerabilities on Android phones increased between 2010 and 2022 - with 2022 reporting an overwhelming increase in CVEs compared with the previous year.
While an overall increase in CVEs can also be found in iPhones, 2022 was the lowest year for vulnerabilities on the operating system since 2018 - and the average number of CVEs recorded is much higher on Android than iOS.
This data would therefore indicate a greater historical security risk on Android when compared with iOS. However, both operating systems are committed to rolling out regular updates and patches designed to specifically target and resolve the latest security threats.
Disposing of old phones can present an unexpected security hazard. Suppose hackers get hold of your discarded device - they could gain access to all your data, private accounts, and more.
They may be capable of stealing important information, like your identity, message history, and bank details - not to mention the multitude of data-sensitive apps that your device will be automatically logged in to.
This is why it's important to safely dispose of a phone.
Before transferring your data between your new and old phone, there are some considerations you must keep in mind:
You should also take steps to secure your phone when preparing it for trade-in. This includes basic steps such as backing up all the data on your device and resetting it.
However, some steps you may not have considered include unpairing your device from your smartwatch, canceling any care plans you have for the device, turning off 'Find My iPhone' or similar tracking technologies, and logging out of accounts such as music streaming services.
This gives you complete peace of mind over a safe and seamless trade-in.
It's important to wipe devices completely before parting with them, for peace of mind that your data won't fall into the wrong hands. Follow these steps to be sure you leave no trace when selling or recycling your old phone: