Help! My phone has been hacked!

Each month, I receive several calls from individuals who claim their phones have been hacked. This can be a very upsetting experience when it happens. Sometimes they’ve contacted law enforcement or even forensic experts and have been told, “Sorry, there isn’t anything we can do to help you.” This only adds to the sense of frustration. If you happen to be one of these people, then this article is for you.

My first piece of advice is to stay calm, which is easier said than done. Put yourself in the shoes of the detective at the local sheriff’s office or the FBI agent you contacted. They have to prioritize criminal cases, so if they have cases where murder, rape or other serious violations have occurred, your case will unfortunately be added to the list after them. Your situation is very important to you, but it may not be quite as important to them, relatively speaking, compared to everything else on their plate.

Please be aware that in many cases the attacker is someone who knows you, and their objective may be to keep you in an upset state of mind. Don't fall into this trap.

Similarly, if you contact me or any other forensic analyst, we will have to judge the merits of your case and decide whether to work with you or not. If you are not calm and rational, it is unlikely anyone will want to have you as a client.

While I am being upfront, let me also mention that the services of a competent forensic analyst are expensive and that our time is in demand. Our tools and ongoing training are expensive, and those costs must be passed on to our clients. So, my first question to someone who claims that their phone has been hacked is “are you sure you can’t just buy a new phone with a new number and set up new accounts?” That may be the low-cost alternative compared to involving a forensic analyst that may cost you several times the expense of a top-of-the-line cell phone.

If you are certain that you want to have a forensic analyst examine your phone, here is some more advice:

  • Don't contact the analyst via the compromised device or potentially compromised email account. There is no need to tip off the attacker to the fact that you are about to start an investigation. Use the phone or computer of a friend to call or email the analyst.
  • Be aware that the analyst will most likely want you to send the phone to them. They will provide you with specific details; follow them exactly.
  • Your phone has sensitive information on it. It is perfectly acceptable to expect the analyst that you hire to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Document in advance as much detail as you can, and answer the following questions:

  • Why do you believe that your phone has been hacked? The more specific you can be, the better.
  • Who do you suspect is the perpetrator? Why? What is their motivation?
  • When did you first suspect your device was hacked?
  • Do you have a theory as to how your phone was hacked?
  • In what ways does your phone act irregularly? Does this occur at certain times of the day?
  • What have you done to try to address the situation yourself? For example, a factory reset, buying a new phone, etc. (If you’ve decided to engage an expert, going forward, wait for further instructions rather than continuing to try to solve the problem yourself while the expert is helping you.)
  • Who else have you asked for help? What have they advised you to do?
  • To what extent have you involved law enforcement? What has been their response to date? If you have police reports, offer to provide them.

Yes, providing this level of documentation takes work, but it will save you time and money in the long run. The documentation process will help you think through the issue and may help you regain some sense of control.

If you have worked through the above questions and are ready to consult a forensic analyst, contact us and we will see if we can help you.

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