Most people carry their phones everywhere with them. So it’s a scary thought to think that people’s phones might be used to spy on them. And it’s not just paranoid thinking either. A recent Instagram photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed tape over his laptop camera in the background. It might not be a phone, but it’s still a worrying revelation nonetheless. If one of the top CEO’s in one of the biggest companies in the world is taping over the camera of their device - then shouldn’t everyone else be doing that, too?
And it’s not just cameras that have people worried. Phones can record sound, and it’s not always clear what programs are running in the background with a mobile device. It’s not as if one could simply pull up a taskbar and see all the processes that are currently running.
Some time ago information leaked of (mostly) men spying on their partners through their mobile devices. These men would gain remote access to their partner’s devices, and then record video and audio as well as go through all of the personal files. They had complete access to everything on the phone. Some even went as far as blackmail.
There are thousands, if not millions of these types of incidents and it’s a big privacy issue. Which begs the question - if a regular person can gain access to software like that, then how can one protect oneself from these types of attacks?
How attackers can get access to a mobile device
There are multiple ways attackers can gain access to a mobile device. From fake apps that give attackers remote access, to text messages with strange characters that instantly upload malware. There have even been some cases of attackers gaining access to mobile phones via PDF files they sent to people. Someone opens the PDF, and, hey presto, they're in. Another big avenue of infiltration is public and unsecured WiFi networks. As soon as the person connects to WiFi, the attackers will gain access to their device without them knowing.
How to detect if a device has been hacked
Here are the signs that can help to detect if another person has gained access to a device:
● The phone’s battery is draining quicker than normal. A malware app is always running in the background and drains the battery faster.
● The phone is ‘acting strange’ - as in it’s constantly performing activities the user didn’t request themselves, like opening apps or going on the web.
● The phone’s web history is filled with sites that the user doesn’t remember visiting.
● Phonecalls have been made from the phone that the user didn’t make themselves. Usually, hackers are smart about covering their tracks, so it’s best to check the phone bill rather than the phone’s call history.
● The phone’s data is draining faster than usual for no apparent reason.
Here’s how to protect the device against online spying
Vigilance is always key to protecting oneself from online attacks and malware infections. But here are some options that can help protect the device and provide some piece of mind:
Use a strong phone lock password
A phone lock doesn’t just subvert someone from physically getting access to the phone; it also keeps online attackers at bay. Any password works well for this purpose, as long as the solution isn’t obvious. So for a more secure device, make sure to add a password, unlock pattern, or face pattern recognition.
Only install apps from trusted sources
Whenever someone downloads an app from an unknown or sketchy source, they run the risk of actually downloading harmful malware. Even the apps that seem to be doing what they were meant to may be running a more devious code in the background. So stick to official app stores whenever possible and read through the permissions carefully before downloading an app. An app that asks for unnecessary permissions should be treated with suspicion.
Use a VPN
Normal internet browsing isn’t actually as secure as most people think. Anyone with enough skill and motivation can find the IP address and location of a person who’s surfing around the web. That is unless that person is using a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that acts as a middleman between the user’s network and the websites they’re visiting. VPN encrypts the data being sent from the user, making it impossible for others to track their online activities. VPNs also hide a user’s IP address by creating a fake one that essentially ‘replaces’ the real one while the VPN app is active. There are plenty of reliable VPNs available for both Android and iOS out there.
If anything, it’s important to always be mindful when roaming on the web or downloading files. Digital mindfulness can make the difference between someone being privy to a person’s whole life and them being protected from prying eyes. So take these measures into account and make use of them to help protect against any invaders.