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Snoopgate: How to tell if your phone’s hacked


The government has asked Apple to join its investigation into allegations that “state-sponsored” hackers may have compromised the iPhones of some opposition leaders and journalists. Has your phone been hacked? What can you do about it?

What is a state-sponsored attack?

State-sponsored cyber attacks usually involve hackers from a particular country targeting government websites or critical infrastructure such as power grids. Consider the Chinese or Pakistani attacks on India. So when some opposition leaders and journalists received iPhone alerts on Tuesday, warning them of ‘state-sponsored’ privacy attacks, they were outraged. While the Indian government urged Apple to help with the investigation, it also questioned why it had sent the threat notifications to people in more than 150 countries. Apple clarified that the alerts did not specify any state-sponsored attacker.

Don’t governments target their citizens too?

In 2021, a global investigation revealed that a military-grade spy called Pegasus, developed by Israel’s NSO Group, was used to hack into the phones of activists and journalists in India and abroad. A year later, a technical committee set up by the Supreme Court found that the phones it examined did not have Pegasus installed. He said, however, that the Indian authorities “did not cooperate” with his investigation. Many countries, including China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the US, have been accused of spying on each other, and their citizens too, with the help of phone apps, spyware, and trojans.

Aren’t iPhones safer than Android?

Apple can fix its bugs seamlessly since it has a single operating system (OS). On the other hand, Android OS comes in different builds, which makes updates more complicated. Spyware like Pegasus can access iPhones remotely but, according to security firm Certo Software, remote hacking is “highly specialized and expensive”, costing at least $100,000.

How do hackers snoop on phones?

Hackers trick users into installing an app with malware, or by impersonating a trusted company or individual. They also use public Wi-Fi hotspots, and keyloggers to snoop on what you write or say. Hackers can even make a Bluetooth connection to your phone if it’s within 30 feet. A compromised phone gives a hacker access to user messages, photos, call logs, internet history and everything synced to online storage sites, including data such as credit card accounts and other personal information.

How can you tell if your phone has been hacked?

One sign is a battery that drains quickly. Other signs include the phone becoming slightly sluggish or hot; apps quitting suddenly or your phone restarting; and strange data, text, or other strange charges that show up in your phone bill. McAfee advises users to encrypt their phones (in your ‘security’ settings), lock SIM cards, use virtual private networks when possible, turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when not in use, and stay clear of third party app stores. Update your security software and OS regularly.

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