Here's the problem we're always running into with technology: In order to get something, sometimes you have to give something up. So, while more than two billion (more than one in three) people now own a smartphone that essentially allows them to walk around with more computing power than the first spaceship that made it to the moon, the downside, of course, is that the more interconnected we become, the harder it is to maintain our privacy.
Phone hacking, the practice of intercepting voice mails, phone calls or text messages, has taken center stage in recent years, not least of which because of the number of high profile (and alarming) cases of this cybercrime.
As the news emerges, each instance has raised deeper concerns about cybersecurity, a topic that many believe to be vital to personal, corporate and even national security. Recognizing this, policymakers are taking determined steps to combat these acts. That's a start, but smartphone users should also take action to protect themselves. If you carry a smartphone, here's what you should know.
How Phone Hacking Works
In a rapidly paced digital world powered by the transfer of information, phone hacking seems an inevitability. Whether it's a competitor trying to steal secrets or tabloids looking for stories, there is always some persistent incentive for espionage. But how is it done? The answer may surprise you. In fact, all it takes is a little internet software.
Yup, there's currently lots of software available online that could help virtually anyone get access to call lists, contacts and text messages. However, most of these tools require direct installation, meaning someone would need access to your phone in order to download or upload the spyware.
Unfortunately, there's also better technology than that. More recently, hackers have found ways to access phones remotely. This process is a bit more complicated. One of the most common ways this is accomplished is by sending a text message or email with a corrupt link or picture. When the victim clicks on it, the malware secretly installs itself onto the phone, where it remains in the background, often undetected. From there, it can send off information to a third party including text messages and web history. This kind of software can even allow hackers to hack into a phone camera and control the phone's microphone to listen in on conversations. If that sounds invasive, that's because it is. The good news is that there are many steps that can be taken to prevent phone hacking. (Learn more about phone hacking in Common Methods Hackers Are Using to Crack Your Cellular Phone.)
The Phone You Love
There's evidence that some phones are more susceptible to hacking than others. Unfortunately, exactly which phones fit that description depends on who you ask. Android's "fragmentation" has led many of its critics to believe that it's more susceptible to hacking than its competitors. In addition, the open-source code that gives Android its flexibility also makes security more difficult. This is mainly because savvy hackers have more access to the platform’s architecture and can design software specifically tailored to extract data. This problem is compounded by the fact that programmers are allowed to openly disseminate apps without restriction.
Apple’s iOS software has a more stringent app approval process coupled with more ingrained security measures. In theory, that should make iPhones harder to hack. Unfortunately, Apple isn't hack-proof either.
The truth is that just about any phone can be hacked, a fact that has raised concerns in the tech community. Some of the responsibility for preventing such attacks lies with smartphone and app developers, but it certainly doesn't hurt for users to take matters into their own hands.
What To Do To Prevent Your Phone From Being Hacked
There are many things that can be done to protect your phone from being hacked. Here are a few of the key precautions all smartphone users should take.
- Download Anti-Virus Software
Anti-virus software can detect and neutralize many forms of spyware that may be hiding in your smartphone. Be sure to download a reliable anti-virus app that can scan your phone for any harmful files that you may or may not have authorized.
- Be Careful About the Apps You Download
Many of the apps that are widely available to smartphone users come with intrusive spyware or malware. Make sure that you research each app before you download it to ensure there are no known issues with security.
- Hold Onto Your Phone
The easiest and most direct type of phone hacking is done to the physical phone itself. For this reason, it's important to be careful about where you leave your phone, and to ensure that a password is required to gain access.
What To Do If Your Phone Has Been Hacked
Phone hacking is a form of unlawful surveillance and is considered a federal crime in the United States and many other nations. If you suspect that your phone has been hacked, your first course of action should be to take your smartphone to your service provider. Oftentimes, they will be able to verify and even remove spyware and malware. They can also help you get in touch with pertinent law enforcement authorities if that's required. Of course you should also change all your passwords and contact any financial or other institutions where you have accounts that you think have been or may be compromised. Ultimately, wiping or replacing your phone might be the best course of action. Of course, that can be a pain, which is why preventing phone hacking is the best course of action. (Learn more about protecting your phone with 5 Solutions to Counter Mobile Security Threats.)
Phone Hacking in the Future
Phone hacking is a widespread problem that will only grow with the increasing prevalence of smartphones. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your phone, to detect when it is being hacked and to remedy the situation in the case of a phone hack. The best way to handle this issue is to use your smartphone with care. After all, you never know who may be listening in.