YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Security experts are saying cell phone numbers are becoming of similar importance to our social security numbers. Hackers can get into cell phones just by knowing the number. Then, they can gain all the information stored in it.
“We have to be very aware of all of these attack points. That phone number is your unique identifier, that’s how I’m going to find you versus anyone else,” said Youngstown State University’s Information Security Officer Chris Wentz. “Any service that uses your cell phone number as any type of identifier you now start to run risks. If I’m able to masquerade my number as yours, when those automated systems see that number come in, they’re not seeing the hacker call, they’re seeing you call.”
Social media, websites, phone applications and retailers generally share the same information exchange system called SS7. Hackers constantly try to break into it.
“If you’re able to gain access to that system, there is a lot of potential damage that can be done,” said Wentz.”There’s the idea of eavesdropping and being able to intercept communication.”
If you’ve ever received a spam text message that said you won money or an award, your number likely got out through one of those systems.
“You won a trip, click to accept or unsubscribe. Even if you unsubscribe or click it, you’ve opened your phone up to that malicious malware,” said Mahoning County Sheriff’s Detective Patrick Mondora.
Mondora handles security cases for the department. He said he’s seen hacks like these lead to identity theft.
“A phone app was downloaded where someone was able to send text messages and put in a separate number so that bogus number appeared on the person’s phone,” explained Mondora.”If you get any funny kind of phone calls, hang up and look up the number yourself, call the number that you found online to verify that they did solicit you.”
Cybersecurity firm Kryptowire recently exposed malicious hackers that collected private information off of Android phones and transmitted that data every 72 hours to China.
Once a hacker gets in through these methods, mobile banking applications, emails, photos, even GPS information, all become accessible to them. It’s not subject to just Apple or Anroid either. It can happen to all phones.
Experts WKBN spoke to say changing your phone number isn’t the best way to protect yourself because your new number will just get out there, too. They said the number one way to protect yourself is being aware of who you’re giving your number to and where you’re sending it.
Other ways to protect yourself include:
- Use apps like Google voice that give you a second phone number that is safer to give out.
- If you get a text or call from a random number claiming to be a bank or other important entity but it seems strange, look up the number online and call the company to make sure it’s legitimate.
- Never give out account numbers or personal information to someone you haven’t verified.
- If you do use mobile banking, monitor your credit and other finances.
- Be wary of connecting to public WIFI or shared WIFI.
- Look up reviews of apps before downloading.
“If there’s ever an option to put in a pin or a passcode or anything like that with those automated systems so it’s not just relying on your cell phone number for authentication, I absolutely encourage that use,” said Chris Wentz.
Some signs you may have been hacked:
- Shorter battery life than usual
- Data usage increase
- Being redirected on the internet constantly
- Strange financial transactions from accounts you have apps attached to
“All of this leads back to financial. If I have your cell phone number, it’s not to make prank calls in the middle of the night,” said Wentz.
The experts say if anything appears wrong, take the phone to an expert for a factory reset and to wipe it clean.