They’re one step ahead of you: Hackers target phones

They’re one step ahead of you: Hackers target phones

By SANSHEY BISWAS | | 5 September, 2015
Sophisticated hacking techniques can now infiltrate phones without the users even realising.

Faster battery drains, apps crashing and slower processing in general — it could be a result of your phone being given too much to handle as the best case scenario. In the worst case, it could mean a malware infection or a hacked phone. Phones have replaced the desktop to become the primary source of computing and communication for most. As a result, they’ve also become the new favourite target for hackers. From snooping to theft, there is a program floating around in cyberspace, waiting to take over your phone or computer connected to the internet. This is one of the reasons why George R R Martin does all his writing on a DOS machine (besides the fact that he hates the autocorrect feature). But not all of us have the luxury of taking our work to an obscure environment where our peace of mind is unaffected by hacks, exploits and surveillance. 

Even with an unaffected device, you are at risk of giving out information to hackers on the same network as you. Hacks are like magic tricks. The audience (the victim) has no idea how it could possibly be pulled off and, thus, is in awe, but most of the time it’s a simple technique or contraption that makes the entire illusion possible. And if you’re on a public wi-fi network (which sounds exciting because it’s free), a hacker with Wireshark software on his laptop can snoop on all the cookies and authentication data moving between servers and phones. While you enjoy free internet access, he gathers all the login details that you type into your phone. F-Secure does offer a solution to the problem, which we’d advise you to try if you rely heavily on public or shared wi-fi networks, like the ones at coffee shops or hotels. Switching on the VPN from F-Secure re-routes your data and hides the phone’s identity, making it much tougher to be snooped on or stolen from. 

While uninfected devices are easier to take care of, once the bug has bit your phone, things get a little trickier. You could lose complete control of your device and still not find out. All you’ll notice is random mobile data charges, balance deductions, overheating and diminishing battery life. The infection can come from any medium — messages, app packages, e-mails. Thus, it becomes necessary to have a filter in place that doesn’t let these malicious files through. The Stagefright vulnerability in Android devices has been a huge concern, because it basically means a text message is enough to hack the phone. Eset, a security software company, has launched a tool to check if your device is vulnerable to the hack. Updates are rolling out to fix the issue, but till then, you’d be better off swapping your device for a more robust one, or keeping delicate information off it.

Apple’s iOS devices are strict about what gets in and goes out. But hackers found a way to gain access to them too, by targeting the youngest sibling of the Apple family, iCloud. That issue seems to be under control though, and one should hope so considering the biometric and credit card information stored on iPhones for Touch ID and Apple Pay. However, if you’ve jailbroken your device and don’t have Apple’s security blanket anymore, a malware called KeyRaider could have already made its way to your iPhone and accessed information via compromised iTunes login credentials.  As per initial reports, 2,25,000 devices have already been affected. 

Ransomware will infiltrate your computer, encrypt your files and won’t allow access until you pay up. Only upon payment do you get the password to decrypt the files.

Having your data stolen and being oblivious about it has been a common phenomenon ever since hacking has existed. The only solution upon discovery is to reset your login credentials everywhere and assess the damage done in order to find a possible solution. Ransomware, on the other hand, doesn’t even give you that liberty.  It will infiltrate your computer, encrypt your files and won’t allow you access until you pay up. Only upon receiving the ransom do you get the password to decrypt the files. But even without stealing or prohibiting access to your data, malware and infections can render your computer full of annoying pop-ups to the point that it’s barely functional. Unlike the good old days, software that are specifically written to affect the OS X are out there and waiting for a visit  to the host site. Granting permission to a program could install plugins that would wreak havoc, throwing pop-ups on your screen to the point where you’ll barely be able to get any work done until you uninstall the browser or disconnect from the internet. The good news for Windows 10 users (who’ve been complaining that the new privacy settings that let the OS track user activity is too intrusive) is that they can rely on on Windows Defender, which  makes seeking out and getting rid of the rogue apps easier. 

Hacks and exploits are everywhere; you never know what you’ll be up against unless  you’re downloading software from reliable publishers (though even they goof up). Make sure your OS and antivirus software is up-to-date and get one if you don’t already. For phones, Google and Apple have put safety nets in place to protect the phones from low-level hacks. So don’t play around with the settings. Even with these exploits out there, it’s important to safeguard your phone at home (like a grown-up version of the kid rigging his dad’s iPhone autocorrect to change “no” to “yes”).

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