Do you have malware on your phone? Here's how to check

Malware on your phone can access your personal info, including your bank details. Here’s how to safeguard your phone against malicious software and what to do if it’s been infected.
5 min read
Forget pickpocketing — these days, there’s a different security threat plaguing people across Europe: malware, short for “malicious software.” Often masquerading as an app, website, or pop-up ad, malware can gain access to your private data once it’s on your phone — including your bank credentials. However, there are many ways you can safeguard yourself against getting malware on your phone, as well as several steps you can follow to remove it if your phone has been targeted. Here’s what you need to know to protect your phone from malware.

How malware on your phone works

Cybercriminals use malware to access your personal data. Once malware is installed on your phone, it can often gain access to your contacts, emails, usernames, passwords, file names, and bank details. Malware can even exist on your phone undetected. And the more information you share while using an infected phone, such as login details, the more likely it is that the malware can gain access to this data.Malware is able to infect your phone through several methods, including:
  • Infected apps. Hackers create malicious applications and sell them through third-party app stores, i.e. platforms other than the App Store or Google Play. 
  • Direct-to-device download. Here, a hacker is able to download malware directly onto a target’s phone by connecting the phone to another device. This often happens when a victim plugs their phone into an untrusted computer.
  • Malvertising. Hackers can inject malicious code into online ads so that when a victim clicks on the ad, malware is installed on their phone. These can range from pop-ups to banners to paid ads.
  • Online scams and phishing. With these methods, scammers send their targets a text or an email, directing them to a malicious link or a fake webpage. Once clicked, the link infects the target’s phone with malware.

How to know if your phone is infected with malware

There are several tell-tale signs that your phone has been infected with malware. The quicker you identify that your phone has been compromised, the sooner you can resolve it and protect your data. Here’s what to look out for:

1. Your battery is draining fast

If your battery is suddenly draining much faster than usual, it could be because malware is engaging in many background tasks that require a lot of energy. While all batteries slow down over time, be wary if the change has been sudden.

2. There’s an increase in pop-up ads

If you’re suddenly being inundated with pop-up ads, either within a specific app or even when you don’t have any other application open, your phone could be infected with malware.

3. You have a new, mysterious app

If you notice a new app on your phone that you didn’t download, don’t open it. Sometimes, once malware has infected your phone, it can install additional applications that are equally nasty. Likewise, if you download a new app and the icon immediately disappears from your screen, this can also be a sign that your phone has been infected with malware.

4. Your phone is overheating

Some types of malware can send your phone’s internal CPU or charging mechanism into overdrive, causing it to become dangerously hot. If you notice your phone is overheating while charging, unplug it from the power source and turn it off immediately.

5. You’re receiving unexplained charges

Malware can send text messages to premium rate numbers and incur other charges on your behalf without you realizing. If you notice suspicious charges on your phone bill, that could mean that you have malware on your phone.

How to protect your phone from malware

Protecting your phone from malware is essential to keeping your private data safe. Here are some tips on how to safeguard your phone from malware:
  • Don’t jailbreak your phone. i.e. don’t remove any software restrictions put in place by the phone manufacturer. Jailbreaking makes your phone much more vulnerable to malware attacks.
  • Avoid downloading apps from third-party platforms. Most malicious apps are downloaded outside of the official app stores: Google Play and the App Store. 
  • Keep your phone up-to-date with the latest OS updates. These updates contain vital security patches to fix any vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers.
  • Be cautious about clicking on any unusual links. Malware can often infect your phone through email or SMS phishing attempts that direct you to a website with a malicious link. Never click on a link that seems questionable.
  • Review app permissions before installing a new app. Avoid any application that requests access to your personal data — including your calendar, contact list, or SMS messages — without good reason.

How to safeguard your bank account from malware

Unfortunately, hackers create malware to specifically target banking apps. Once this malware is on a phone, hackers are able to access their target’s login details and, eventually, their bank accounts. In these cases, unless the malware has been removed from your device, changing the password won’t protect you — the hacker will be able to simply steal the new password, too.In order to remove malware from your phone, consider investing in some malware detection software. However, it’s best to choose trusted companies with solid reputations, rather than just downloading any antivirus app. If you’re still unsure whether your phone is malware-free, it might be worth doing a full factory reset. Although this will completely wipe your phone, it will also remove any malware in the process. If you want to get in touch with the relevant mobile malware authorities in your country, or to learn more about malware in general, check out Europol’s malware page.

Security at N26

At N26, we take security seriously. All N26 Mastercards are protected with 3D Secure technology, and if you spot any suspicious activity on your account, you can immediately lock your card right from the app. Plus, instant notifications on all account activity give you visibility and peace of mind. Visit our accounts page to find the one that’s right for you.

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