Although Apple is doing a great job safeguarding iOS devices against unauthorized remote exploitation, iPhone hacks happen due to vulnerabilities in third-party apps or because users slip up and tap the wrong links or download something they should not. These incidents are surreptitious, for the most part, but there is a silver lining: some giveaways can be noticed with the naked eye.
If you search the web for the telltale signs of an iPhone hack, most websites you will come across provide 5-7 symptoms to watch out for. I have decided to take it up a notch. This article highlights 19 red flags indicating that a hacker may have infiltrated your device. The list will help you identify the predicament early and take countermeasures before the intruder causes damage.
1. Your phone makes calls you are clueless about. Bad actors may perpetrate clever schemes that piggyback on a breached device to impersonate you by initiating calls on your behalf.
2. Unfamiliar apps have cropped up on your device. If you discover apps, you do not remember installing; this could be a symptom of a compromise. Having gained a foothold in your iPhone, crooks may deposit rogue code that snoops on your activities or executes dodgy commands.
3. You are being shelled with pop-ups. The fact that tech giants are chasing us around the Internet with ads is not new. However, a soaring number of these pop-ups could be a way mobile malware signals its presence. Malware, in turn, is a common source for unauthorized access to devices.
4. Data usage has increased. This is an upshot of a harmful app communicating with its Command & Control server behind the scenes. Again, predatory code and hacks often go hand in hand. You should be worried if data consumption is skyrocketing when your iPhone usage patterns have not changed.
5. Apps are crashing once in a while. Viruses and malware may affect the way regular apps behave. If your apps randomly become non-responsive and stop running, take your time, and try to figure out the reason. A malicious third party may be tampering with your device.
6. Your iPhone is getting anomalously hot. Because hacker-injected malware tends to have a noticeable CPU and RAM footprint, your device may overheat when the attack is in full swing.
7. The battery is draining faster than it used to. When an unwanted application is siphoning off your iPhone’s processing resources to do its thing, the battery always takes a hit. The good news is that battery drain is something the average user will notice. That is a call to action that increases the chance of identifying the root cause before it is too late.
8. Suspicious charges on your phone bill. Malefactors who spot and exploit a loophole in your iPhone’s defenses may rake in profits by making calls or sending text messages to premium-rate numbers behind your back. This foul play will result in extra costs reflected in your phone bill.
9. Your contacts are receiving weird messages you never sent. Any text messages or emails sent from your device without your “seal of approval” are giveaways that should make you suspicious. Communications like that could have been remotely triggered by a hacker.
10. Sluggish performance. Rogue commands and surreptitious data collection will always gobble up your iPhone’s processing powers. In some cases, this activity gets too resource-intensive for your device to work smoothly.
11. Web pages look different than before. Hackers may furtively launch a proxy tool that misrepresents the way websites appear. In other words, they can inject fake forms or banners that push junk services or instruct you to enter personal details.
12. Some apps are acting up. If you have noticed some of your trusted apps popping up for no apparent reason, using too much memory or otherwise exhibiting weird behavior, this could indicate that an attacker has modified their code or remotely replaced them with knock-off versions.
13. Emails you are sending from your iPhone are getting blocked by spam filters. This quandary could occur in the aftermath of unauthorized changes made to your email set-up. For instance, a perpetrator might have configured your messages to travel via a rogue in-between server to intercept your correspondence.
14. Your iPhone is trying to access NSFW sites. If you are using a company-issued device that blocks access to adult materials or other dubious resources according to enterprise policies and you discover that it was trying to go to such sites regardless, this should give you a heads-up.
15. You are encountering strange call disruptions. Periodic background noise such as clicks, echoes, or strange electronic interference could be a clue that someone is eavesdropping on your conversations.
16. Your credentials have been leaked on a dubious website. If you accidentally discover that the username and password for one of your accounts have been published on some website, it could mean two things: the service provider has suffered a breach, or your iPhone has been hacked, and the attackers have stolen your authentication details.
17. Your iPhone settings have been modified without your awareness. If your iPhone customizations have changed and you did not do it, that is another red flag that requires immediate scrutiny to make sure no one else has remote access to the device.
18. Your iPhone is rebooting on its own. Sometimes unexpected reboots indicate that a malicious application or an attacker is trying to put dubious system tweaks into effect.
19. Sketchy activity on accounts tied to your iPhone. A hacker who has backdoor access to your device can most likely access the accounts linked to it, such as iCloud, Apple Pay, social media, and email. If your account passwords have been reset or you have noticed new service subscriptions you never made, it is time to check your iPhone for malware or signs of a hack.
What to do if your iPhone has been hacked?
If you suspect that your device is compromised, the following tips will help you stop the attack in its tracks and avoid the worst-case scenario -
● Change your passwords. The first thing on your to-do list is to change your iPhone passcode and the passwords for your iCloud, Google, Apple Pay, social networking, and email accounts.
● Install a mobile security app. Reliable security tools can identify rogue iOS settings and detect apps that exhibit malicious behavior. If you take this route, you could be a few taps away from sorting things out.
● Restore your iPhone to factory settings. If nothing else fixes the problem, consider resetting your device to its original state. Although this move will make you go the extra mile, re-specifying all the preferences and installing apps from scratch, it is a hugely effective way to pull the plug on all forms of hacking. And if this does not help either, try your local repair shop.
David Balaban is a computer security researcher with over 17 years of experience in malware analysis and antivirus software evaluation. David runs MacSecurity.net and Privacy-PC.com projects that present expert opinions on contemporary information security matters, including social engineering, malware, penetration testing, threat intelligence, online privacy, and white hat hacking. David has a strong malware troubleshooting background, with a recent focus on ransomware countermeasures.