Cybersecurity experts say shutting devices down forcibly stops apps and other processes running in the background
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday (June 23) urged everyone in the country to start turning their mobile phone off for five minutes on a daily basis in an effort to combat cybersecurity risks.
“We all have a responsibility. Simple things, turn your phone off every night for five minutes. For people watching this, do that every 24 hours, do it while you’re brushing your teeth or whatever you’re doing.” His advice echoes guidelines previously issued by the National Security Agency (NSA) advising a weekly reboot of smartphones to minimise the risk of devices being hacked.
Cybersecurity experts also say that shutting devices down forcibly stops apps and other processes running in the background of devices which may be monitoring their activity or collecting their data without the user realising.
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Does turning your phone off really help in thwarting hacking?
Yes, turning a device off then back on again can prevent hackers from stealing information from smartphones in these times of widespread digital insecurity. Though regularly rebooting phones won’t stop the army of cybercriminals from trying to steal critical data from our mobile phones, it can surely make even the most sophisticated hackers work harder to maintain access and steal data from a phone.
The National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States issued a “best practices” guide for mobile device security a few years ago, in which it also recommended rebooting a phone every week as a way to stop hacking.
Over the years, cellphones that are storehouses of personal and sensitive data have become top targets for hackers looking to steal text messages, contacts and photos, as well as track users’ locations and even secretly turn on their video and microphones.
How rebooting phone may hamper a hacker’s bid to gain access to it?
The advice to periodically reboot a phone reflects a change in how top hackers are gaining access to mobile devices and the rise of so-called “zero-click” exploits that work without any user interaction instead of trying to get users to open something that’s secretly infected. This primarily means that there has been an evolution away from having a target click on a dodgy link.
Typically, once hackers gain access to a device or network, they look for ways to persist in the system by installing malicious software to a computer’s root file system. However, it has become more difficult as phone manufacturers like Apple and Google have strong security to block malware from core operating systems.
It encourages hackers to opt for “in-memory payloads” that are harder to detect and trace back to whoever sent them. Such hacks can’t survive a reboot, but often don’t need to since many people rarely turn their phones off.
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What other measures one can take to prevent hacking?
Apart from rebooting your device, you may initiate several steps to ensure that your sensitive data remains safe. The first step to secure your phone from snoopers is making their job more difficult. Hackers often exploit software vulnerabilities to intrude into your data. So, even though the updating process can be long and eat up your memory, be sure to always use the most updated software version to mitigate the risks.
Though your apps look safe, they may still be collecting a lot of your critical data. Therefore, it is imperative that you allow any new app to only access the necessary information. You must also use a mobile antivirus software that will run automatic scans for malware. You should also make sure that you are using iPhone VPN or Android VPN app while accessing public Wi-Fi. Avoid keeping yourself logged-in to sensitive applications like your online banking or email account.
To safeguard your mobile data security, you should always disable the voice assistant option on lock screen. Beware of public charging stations, as cybercriminals can access your phone’s data or introduce malware in your device through a USB drive.
How to know that your phone is hacked?
Whether you have an iPhone or an Android smartphone, some signs can indicate that your device has been hacked. If you notice these signs in your phone, there’s a chance that a cybercriminal has targeted you — unusual data usage spikes, excessive battery drainage, sluggish performance, takes forever to launch apps, restarts for no reason, mysterious popups, apps that you don’t remember installing, outgoing calls or texts you didn’t send, and unusual activity on any account linked to your phone.
What to do if your mobile phone is hacked?
First, run a malware removal and antivirus software for eliminating threats that may be present in your device. Check your transactions and report to your bank in case you find any anomalies. Block your card, if needed. You should also review all the installed apps and delete untrustworthy and suspicious apps.
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You may also reset your device after backing up your important information on your laptop or cloud storage. You should change all your login credentials to make sure your accounts are protected from any data breaches, besides reporting the matter to the authorities, which investigate into cybercrimes.
How prevalent is mobile phone hacking?
Though the number of people whose phones are hacked each year is unknown, evidence suggests it’s significant. A couple of years back, a probe into phone hacking by a global media consortium has caused political upheaval in France, India, Hungary and elsewhere after researchers found scores of journalists, human rights activists and politicians on a leaked list of what were believed to be potential targets of an Israeli hacker-for-hire company.
A robust market currently exists for hacking tools that can break into phones. Moreover, hacker-for-hire companies that sell mobile-device hacking services to governments and law enforcement agencies have proliferated in recent years. The most well-known is the Israeli-based NSO Group, whose spyware researchers say has been used around the world to break into the phones of human rights activists, journalists and even members of the Catholic clergy.
NSO Group is the focus of the recent exposes by a media consortium that reported the company’s spyware tool Pegasus was used in 37 instances of successful or attempted phone hacks of business executives, human rights activists and others, according to The Washington Post.