Why smartphone hacking is a real threat & how to handle it | Hacker Noon

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@mignonette-garnierMignonette Garnier

mignonette has been writing articles for technology for five years.

Even if you aren’t very tech-savvy, you may have heard about vulnerabilities in both Android and iOS platforms making the news. Despite these headlines, smartphone hacking is a real challenge many of us still don’t take seriously.

Here, we’ll explain the threats posed by smartphone hacking and explore how smartphone spying apps are routinely used for this purpose.

To start, we’ll identify and explore one app in particular, demonstrating its features to showcase the risks. Then we’ll provide some tips for enhancing smartphone safety.

The threat

It is typically believed that Android smartphones are at a higher risk of hacking than iOS devices. While this is true to a certain extent, it does not mean that the iPhone has no vulnerabilities at all.

Researchers continue to identify vulnerabilities on both platforms. For example, the Google Play Store was forced to remove several apps on its list because they were secretly scamming users into sharing their Facebook login details.

Interestingly, the malware stayed hidden and only activated once the
users opened the Facebook app.

Similarly, a researcher testing the iOS security discovered that attackers could hack into an iPhone without any interaction with the phone. All they needed was the user’s Apple ID.

These issues have since been fixed by the respective companies, but it goes to show neither platform is foolproof.

Dangers of smartphone hacking

Smartphones are now considered as an extension of your identity. Social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat contain private information. Similarly, instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp or iMessage are now go-to platforms for daily communications.

Most people also sync their email addresses with their smartphone, so personal and work emails are also saved on the phone. Personal images and videos, along with important documents are all saved in a smartphone.

And hackers can exploit any of these issues to blackmail you, steal your identity, commit crimes under your name, or even disable your phone. They can also tap into your financial details to steal money, and even track your location to see where you were and where you are headed. In short, attackers can build a complete profile of your identity, your career, your relationships, your history and your daily routine.

This information can also be used to target your loved ones. For instance, a hacker can obtain very private information about you and use it to scam or blackmail your loved ones. There are a plethora of social engineering
tools at their disposal as well.

Before we discuss what you can do to improve your security, let’s take a look at how smartphone monitoring apps work and what kind of information they can collect.

XNSPY smartphone monitoring app

XNSPY is a smartphone monitoring app that is designed for use by parents to keep their children safe, and for employers to track their employees. It is not the only monitoring app available on the market, but it is one of the most commonly used ones.

So how does it work? Well, all the parent (or hacker) has to do is install the app on a phone. You may think this can be challenging, but for the right person, it can be quite easy. Even people around you can install XNSPY on your phone without your knowledge.

Let’s take a look at some of the features available with the app and see how dangerous the app can be in the wrong hands.

Telecommunications hacking: With this feature, all your call log data, along with saved contacts, can be accessed by the hacker. Furthermore, the app can be used to record phone conversations and they can even download the recordings on their computers.

GPS tracking: We briefly discussed this issue earlier in the article. Hackers can use XNSPY to track your location in real-time, and view location history to build a picture of your routes and routine. There’s also a fencing feature available that can be employed to specifically target areas you frequently visit.

Phone remote control: The app can remotely and quietly take screenshots, and turn on the device’s microphone to listen to your
surroundings. Similarly, they can view all installed apps, lock the phone, and even remotely delete all saved data!

Besides, multimedia files such as photos and videos are not safe either, because the hacker can simply download them on their systems. Your emails, your web browsing history, and app activity are all accessible.

Message tracking: You may delete your text messages, but XNSPY can be used to create a record of all messages without your knowledge. The app can be used to target a vast number of social media and instant messaging
platforms installed on your phone.

That’s not all. XNSPY can track all the Wi-Fi networks saved on your phone and has a keylogger tool that creates a record of each keystroke you make on the phone.

In short, a hacker could access all your passwords and IDs in one swoop, which means your social media accounts, email accounts, banking accounts and other similar details are all compromised. Anyone can purchase a copy of the app at less than USD $10 a month.

Misuse & Legality

It is important to take note that monitoring apps like XNSPY are not illegal peruse. As mentioned, the apps are designed for parental or employee monitoring purposes. This is why there is a legal requirement to obtain the consent of the other party before using the app.

However, criminals who do not care about the law or ethics can misuse such apps to hack into smartphones. In the right hands, these programs are very useful and reliable tools. In the wrong hands, however, they can be quite dangerous.

Anyone can install a copy of the program on your phone, and you won’t even know about it because such apps leave no trace of their presence. Now that we have discussed these important aspects, let’s take a look at what you can do to improve your smartphone security.

Watch the signs

The most important thing you can do is to stay alert to changes in the way your device behaves. Almost all smartphone monitoring apps, spyware programs, and malware affect the device activity in one way or another. Here are some signs you should watch out for.

  • Excess data use: Keep track of how much your phone is using your data connection. Spyware uses the internet to send/receive commands and transfer data. If you see your phone using more data than you expect it to, get your phone checked.
  • Battery drainage and performance issues: This is among the tell-tale signs that something is wrong. Hackers use programs that use up a lot of battery, which means your phone’s battery life will take a hit, even if you are not using it as much. Similarly, apps on your phone may not work the way they used to, as spyware uses computing power as well.
  • Configuration changes and unusual device activity: Hackers often change the phone’s settings for their advantage. If you notice a change in configuration that you did not make, consider it a red flag. Similarly, check your security if you notice odd activity on social media or email accounts linked to your smartphone. 
  • Popups and odd apps: You probably already know this, but mysterious popup ads with links to fishy websites, along with apps on your phone you do not recall installing, are major signs that your security has been compromised.
  • What to do

    There’s not much you can do on your own if your phone has been hacked. The most important thing is to make sure you take your smartphone to a security expert who can identify and remove the malware.

    While it is impossible to have an absolutely secure (or vulnerable) device, there are many things you can do to decrease the likelihood of potential attacks. 

    • Regularly change your passwords and make sure your passwords are complex.
    • Be cautious when using your phone in public.
    • Install a reliable and reputable anti-malware app.
    • Avoid installing unusual programs and remove any apps that seem suspicious.
    • Do not connect to public WiFi and turn off your data/WiFi connection when not using it.
    • Do not leave your phone unattended, and always make sure that Bluetooth connectivity is turned off.
    • Do not visit suspicious URLs or ads.
    • Install a reliable VPN app to connect to the internet.
    • Restore your phone to factory settings.
    • Bear in mind that this should be the last option on your mind. Always get your phone checked by an expert before you choose to exercise this choice.
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mignonette has been writing articles for technology for five years.

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