For most of us, smartphones are our digital soul: it holds our darkest secrets, thoughts, and things that you would like to keep well hidden. Basically, this little thing encapsulates our entire life! And the thought of it being stolen or hacked sends chills down our spine…
I’m sure you feel that too, right?
Clearly, we want to keep our mobile phones well-protected against malicious actors and other evil-intentioned strangers lurking online. However, with the advancement of technology, where innovations and technology awareness become more prevalent, hackers can now hack into even the most sophisticated smartphone devices. Yes, your smartphone too!
But don’t worry! Sen Angus King, a secretive Senate Intelligence committee member, has found a perfect way to keep smartphone hackers at bay. And no, it does not require any technical coding or software!
Here’s what he found:
Step 1: Switch off your phone.
Step 2: Switch it back on!
That’s it! At times of revolutionary technology advancement, it turns out that the simplest and decades-old computer hack – switching devices off then back on again – is all it takes to ward off even the most efficient hackers.
While this standard practice won’t prevent the army of hackers that have wreaked havoc in online security, it can make even the most decent cybercriminal run for their money and time as they work harder to hack into your mobile device.
“This is all about imposing a cost on these malicious actors,” said Neal Ziring, technical director of the National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate.
Last year, the National Security Agency (NSA) released a “best practice” guide for online security that recommends rebooting a phone every once a week to prevent potential hacking. In fact, make this your standard practice or a part of your routine.
“I’d say probably once a week, whenever I think of it,” King said.
Why should you be Rebooting your Mobile Devices?
Just look around yourself, all you can see is smartphone zombies walking down the streets, with their heads down, eyes glued to the screens, and fingers scrolling down through their social feeds.
What does this depict? Smartphones are inseparable from our lives! These small devices have transformed the entire digital ecosystem and telecommunications in Canada. According to last year’s stats, the number of mobile internet users in Canada stood at 29.8 million, and it’s expected to surpass 33 million by 2025. Considering that Canada retains a top spot among smartphone users, it puts us at a greater risk of potential mobile hacking and data theft.
Thus, users must adopt this simple habit – rebooting your phone – to thwart smartphone hackers.
In addition, many tech experts also recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to maximize security and privacy while browsing online, especially when connected to an open Wi-Fi network. When using public Wi-Fi, the information you have on your phone could be available to hackers in the area – unless you use a VPN.
The VPN technology encrypts your online traffic and disguises your IP address, hence, preventing you from any potential hacking attempts.
Phone-Hacking Tactics used by Hackers
Gone are the days when mobile hacking was a headache only reserved for celebrities; now, it has gone beyond the celeb vs. common folk’s barrier and become a legitimate concern for anyone who owns a smartphone. In fact, passing out digits is all it takes for hackers to sneak into your mobile and steal your valuable information.
Claudiu Popa, a CEO of Informatica Corporation (a Canadian cybersecurity consulting firm), says, “If someone has your phone number, they are likely to have other identity elements as well, so don’t be surprised.”
Well, they have their own ways!
Spam or fraudulent calls
Have you ever received a spam call? A call where the caller pretends to be from law enforcement or the Canada Revenue Agency, demanding and threatening jail time. Well, many Canadians are falling victims to such scams – most of them are financially devastating.
As per the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, these scams have affected Canadians approx. $16.7 million since 2014. These cyber crimes have become so common that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently intensified its efforts to fight against them. The number of victims affected by phone hacking is indefinite, but several researchers suggest it is significant.
Spyware – Pegasus
Just recently, the Global media consortium conducted an investigation into phone hacking and found dozens of journalists, human rights activists, lawyers, and politicians would have been targeted by hackers using spyware software designed and sold by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance company.
The investigation revealed widespread and constant exploitation of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus, which the agency claims is intended against terrorists and cybercriminals.
BREAKING: massive, global leak of the targets of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. *huge deal.*
Forensic investigation by @AmnestyTech
in collaboration with @FbdnStories reporters.
We @citizenlab conducted peer review.
Here’s an explainer THREAD. https://t.co/TasFCy5EGW pic.twitter.com/rGGKAkfSry
— John Scott-Railton (@jsrailton) July 18, 2021
Pegasus is the most powerful tool of spyware ever designed by an Israeli surveillance company, NSO. Once the software worms its way onto your smartphone, it can turn into an around-the-clock surveillance device without you noticing.
This software can harvest any sort of information from your mobile, be it is your messages, photos, or call records. It might also activate your microphone to secretly eavesdrop on your conversations or film you through your mobile camera. It can follow you around everywhere, like your shadow. This NSO’s spyware is capable of infecting billions of phones, including Android or iOS devices.
The suggestion to frequently restart a phone proves to be, in part, an effective measure against top hackers trying to gain access to mobile devices. The maneuver also works against “zero-click” exploits where the hackers hacked into the system without any user interaction.
“There has been this evolution away from having a target click on a dodgy link,” said Bill Marczak, an experienced researcher at Citizen Lab, an internet civil rights watchdog at the University of Toronto.
Previously, a hacker used to lure users into clicking or downloading infected files to their devices containing malicious software. But this approach has become more and more difficult ever since mobile manufacturers – Google and Apple – have strengthened their security and malware systems.
“It’s very difficult for an attacker to burrow into that layer in order to gain persistence,” he said.
In case of any device hacking situation, report it immediately to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and your local law enforcement officer.