How to Know If Your Phone Is Hacked: 6 Signs + Tips to Protect Yourself

The idea of a stranger getting into everything on your phone is probably enough to make you start sweating. After all, they can use that information to stalk you, steal your identity or credit card details, or even blackmail you with whatever they find. 

If you’ve noticed your phone acting strange lately, don’t panic just yet. Read through the signs below to see if your phone has been hacked or infected with malware so you know what to do next. It’s also possible your phone is acting up for a completely unrelated reason, so we’ll add some context to help you rule out other phone-related issues.

We’ll also give you some tips on how to get rid of any sneaky snoopers on your phone so you can give cybercriminals the boot.

Download a VPN and Prevent Criminals from Stealing Your Data

Prevention is almost always the answer when it comes to cybersecurity! You can use CyberGhost VPN to secure your connection with military-grade encryption and block outsiders from hijacking your data. Our VPN also comes with a strong malware blocker that automatically cuts off malicious domains and ads. Our apps are user-friendly and easy to install – just follow these steps:

  1. Become a Ghostie. It’s fast and easy.
  2. Download the VPN for your iOS or Android phone.
  3. Select a server and turn on the VPN.
  4. Browse with peace of mind knowing your connection is private!

6 Signs Your Phone Is Hacked or Infected with Malware

1. The Phone Is Slower than Normal

Phones get slower with age and can noticeably slow down when many processes are running simultaneously. If neither applies to your case, it’s possible malicious software running in the background is slowing down your phone if it’s unusually sluggish. 

You’ll also notice the phone getting warmer than usual. Some apps that worked fine before may even start freezing or stuttering. This usually happens because the malware running in the background is using so much processing power that the device can’t run other processes properly.

2. The Battery Drains Faster

If you’ve had your phone for a while, you should have a good idea of how long its battery generally lasts before you need to recharge. If you’re not doing something that drains the battery faster, like playing a new game or scrolling through Instagram for hours, it could be a sign your phone has been hacked.

An infected phone usually has a decreased battery life because extra processes are running in the background. These processes usually involve cybercriminals remotely scanning the device, sending emails or messages, using your camera, copying your files, or running hidden apps. That said, as phones get older, their battery life tends to get shorter so make sure it’s not just time for an upgrade.

3. The Phone Is Acting Independently

Slow speeds and a draining battery could point to unrelated issues, making it difficult to tell if someone has hacked into your phone. Your phone acting on its own, though, is a pretty surefire sign that something is seriously wrong. Before naming malware the culprit, make sure someone close to you hasn’t just been spying on your phone when you’ve left it alone. Even a few seconds can be enough for someone to go through an unlocked phone.

If someone is controlling your phone remotely, it may activate unexpectedly, download files or apps on its own, or open apps without your permission. Look through your phone for any unusual activity. You may find it sent strange messages or emails or made phone calls without you — check your trash folders too, as cybercriminals try to cover their tracks. You might also find new photos, videos, or recordings on your phone you don’t remember taking. 

Unfortunately, cybercriminals are often good at hiding their activity on your phone. If you haven’t noticed anything unfamiliar, don’t let out a sigh of relief just yet. It’s better to err on the side of caution and trust your gut feeling if something about your phone still seems off. 

4. Mobile Data Usage Has Increased

If your bill is much higher than normal and you didn’t do anything differently, it could be caused by malware, an infected app, or criminals exploiting a flaw in your operating system. Cybercriminals usually need to use your connection to send and receive information, which can lead to unusually high data usage. 

Most phones now provide at least a general overview of how much mobile data they use per day. Many even show you how much data individual apps use or let you compare data usage over a month or more. You can check mobile data usage statistics in your phone’s settings to see whether your phone is using more data. If it’s unusually high, try to see if the usage spikes correlate with anything you did or not. 

Consistently high data usage you can’t account for is problematic, even if it turns out your phone wasn’t hacked.

5. Mysterious Notifications Appear

Finding pop-ups in your browser or apps isn’t an instant cause for worry. Many websites and app developers use pop-ups for things like ads or notifications. It becomes worrying when you’re getting unwarranted or strange-looking pop-ups in your browser or apps that keep appearing or disappear suddenly. This could mean your phone is infected with spyware or adware

The same goes for app notifications on your phone. It’s not a good sign if you’re getting notifications from an unknown source or an app keeps sending lots of strange alerts. Notifications that appear and almost instantly disappear are extremely concerning too. While none of these can be taken as a surefire sign your phone has been compromised, they’re a strong indication that something may be wrong.

Note: Even unsolicited notifications and in-app pop-ups from trusted apps can be dangerous, as they may become infected due to poor security, allowing cybercriminals to send phishing links that infect your device.

6. Unusual Activity in Online Accounts

If your device is infected, you may notice your browser behaving differently or find activity in your apps or accounts when you didn’t use them. Search through your online accounts as well to see if someone tried to reset your passwords, send messages, or change your settings. 

To be safe, look at all your apps and important accounts, including email, cloud storage, banking or investment apps, and social media accounts — preferably from a different device. Cybercriminals target their victims for different reasons and use different types of cyber attacks to get what they want. They might not want (or have) access to everything on your phone, but it’s better to rule out anything you can.

Phone Hacks: How Hackers Access Your Phone

Attack MethodDetails
Malicious AppsMalicious apps can — and regularly do — slip behind Play Store and App Store security checks. These apps can be hard to spot because they usually function more or less as advertised while running malicious code in the background. They can also install hidden apps or download additional files to your phone.
PhishingPhishing scams are typically spread through emails and SMS. You may have received unwanted messages from strangers or even strange links from a friend. Beware! Phishing attacks come in many forms and can secretly install malware on your device.
Unencrypted Wi-Fi NetworksPublic Wi-Fi is usually less secure to make it easier for anyone to connect, but that comes with security risks. Anyone on the same network can use malicious tools to spy on your traffic or even hack into your phone. If you’re not careful on public Wi-Fi, cybercriminals can install malware on your phone without you noticing.
Fake Wi-Fi HotspotsCyber attacks called honeypots or evil twin attacks are fake Wi-Fi hotspots that try to mimic existing Wi-Fi networks in the area. It’s difficult to tell the difference if you don’t know the exact name of the Wi-Fi network you want to connect to. Whoever created the fake free hotspot can see everything you do online and will steal your information or install malware on your device.
SIM SwappingIf a cybercriminal gets hold of your personal information, they can contact your carrier and pretend to be you. They can then request a SIM swap and transfer your number to their device to take over your accounts.
SpywareSpy apps are very common, and anyone can install them, even those close to you. They usually require physical access to your phone, but a person only needs a few minutes to install one. Cybercriminals can even install some spy apps remotely.
Poorly Coded/Abandoned AppsEvery app on your phone is a potential gateway for cybercriminals. They can exploit any security vulnerabilities in the app if it’s poorly coded or the developers aren’t updating it anymore.
Stingray OperationsThe name may sound cool, but in reality, Stingrays are tools used by agencies like the FBI and the UK police force to spy on people. It’s commonly done to find criminals through their phones, but these tools are controversial because they gather information from everyone in the area.

How to Check if Your Phone Camera Is Hacked

Crafty cybercriminals can hide their tracks if they’re accessing your phone’s camera, but you may still notice some strange behavior. One indicative sign is when your camera app opens by itself or your flashlight lights up for no reason.

You should also keep an eye out for photos or videos taken without your permission. These may be located in your device storage (check the trash folder too!) or they could have been sent to someone in an SMS, message app, or email. If that’s the case, you’re probably seeing evidence of someone controlling your camera remotely. The same goes for the webcams on your other devices.

While you can turn on your camera unnoticed if you press buttons accidentally, it should be easy enough to rule that out. It’s also a good idea to check whether someone else, like a partner or parent, can access your phone and might be responsible for the photos or videos.

What to Do If Your Phone Has Been Hacked

  1. Turn Off Your Data/Wi-Fi. Cybercriminals can’t do much when your phone isn’t connected to the internet. Switching off the connection prevents them from stealing any more data or monitoring your phone. They may still be able to listen in on any phone calls you make or read SMSs you send, though, so be careful.
  2. Change Your Passwords. Replace your passwords on the most important accounts, like your email, online banking, and e-wallet platforms, first. Try to do this on a different device, if you can, to avoid anyone potentially intercepting these changes through your phone. Every new password should be strong and unique.
  3. Activate 2FA on Important Accounts. If you haven’t already, activate multi-factor authentication on important accounts. Use a trusted account like your primary email or an authentication app on a different device to avoid receiving OTPs on your infected phone.
  4. Warn Your Contacts. Let your friends and family know to ignore any messages from you containing links. Do the same on social networks if it looks like your accounts might have been compromised too.
  5. Contact Your Network Provider. Warn your mobile carrier about the possibility of a SIM swap so they can monitor the situation. You can also ask whether your number has been subscribed to any premium services and ask them to unsubscribe it for you.
  6. Contact Your Bank. If you do internet banking on your phone, it’s important to contact your bank and let them know to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. They may also be able to advise you on how to protect your account.

Cybercriminals are known for finding ways around security measures like passwords and 2FA. That’s why it’s important to keep adopting new habits and tools that protect your phone’s security. A VPN prevents outsiders from spying on your online activity by encrypting your connection. Many cybercriminals can access your phone remotely through public Wi-Fi and threats like evil twin attacks, Man-in-the-Middle (MiTM) attacks, and cookie hijacking. A VPN stops all those efforts in their tracks.

How to Remove a Hacker from Your Phone

  1. Delete Suspicious Apps. It’s possible your phone wasn’t hacked via an infected or malicious app but delete anything suspicious to eliminate that possibility. Focus on free apps, ones you downloaded recently or from third-party app stores, and old apps that aren’t receiving updates anymore.
  2. Delete Questionable Files. Check your downloads folder and delete any APK files you recently downloaded. If you see other files you don’t remember downloading or aren’t sure what they are, it’s better to delete them too.
  3. Run a Malware Scan. Install a trusted malware and spyware remover (don’t bother with “antivirus” apps, as phones generally can’t get viruses) and run a full scan. Look for one by a well-known provider with good reviews.
  4. Restore Your Phone to Factory Settings. If you’ve gone through these steps and you think your phone is still hacked, you might need to do a factory reset. This will remove everything from your phone so be sure to back up any important files, contacts, and messages first.


Can you check to see if your phone is hacked?

Yes, you can identify some common signs your phone is hacked by looking through your device for any suspicious files, apps, messages, or behavior. If you suspect someone is accessing your phone remotely, look through this guide and follow our tips to remove any potential hackers from your phone.

Can you remove a hacker from your phone?

Yes, but you’ll need to identify how your phone has been hacked first so you know what to do next. Turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi and mobile data first to prevent any further monitoring. Delete suspicious apps and files, and run a trusted anti-malware program to remove potential threats from your phone. Paid services are always better than free apps so do some research before installing a malware remover.

Can hackers see your screen?

That depends on how your phone has been compromised. If someone hacked into your phone using malware that gives them access to your device then they may be able to track everything you do on your phone. Follow our tips on what to do if your phone is hacked if you suspect someone else is seeing everything on your screen.

Does *# 21 really tell you if your phone is hacked?

Security experts have debunked the rumors that  the *#21# code will help you see if your phone has been compromised. This code checks if call forwarding is active on a phone or not but can’t tell you anything else about your iOS or Android phone. If you think your phone is hacked, you might be able to tell through the common signs we list in this guide.

Can someone read my text messages from their phone?

A third party may be able to see your text messages if your phone is compromised with malware or spyware, or they performed a SIM swap attack. The latter is especially dangerous because they’ll be able to lock you out of your phone and gain access to anything related to your phone number. If you suspect someone’s reading your messages, follow our tips above to protect your phone and accounts.

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