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Does a Pop-up Mean Your Phone Has Been Hacked?

by on October 07, 2020
in Privacy, Phones and Mobile, Mobile Apps, Android Apps, iPhone/iPad Apps, Computer Safety & Support, Tips & How-Tos :: 23 comments

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You might have experienced this: Surfing the web on your smartphone and a pop-up window appears on the screen, claiming you’ve won a prize or that you have a virus and you need to call a tech support number. Or maybe they're just annoying pop-up ads that won't go away. What gives? Has your phone been hacked or infected with malware?

Though it’s possible that your smartphone has been hacked (here’s how to tell), it’s unlikely this would cause a rash of popups. Most people would never know their phone has been hacked until they see evidence of their personal data being made use of, such as charges to their bank account or new lines of credit opened in their name. This is because a hacker will run a script to scan the phone for user data and collect that without showing any evidence of having done so.

However, there are several other reasons for an unasked for pop-up windows on your smartphone. And yes, some of which are malicious. Here’s how to stop them.

Fake ‘virus’ alerts 

A common scam circulating among both Android and iOS users is the fake virus alert, a pop-up window that tells the user their device is infected. These alerts often look as if they are coming from Google or Apple and usually contain a ‘Remove Virus’ button linking you to a supposed security app or a phone number to call for help. The aim, of course, is to scare the user into downloading malware or, in the case of a phone number, revealing valuable personal information to ‘tech support’.

How to fix it:

Shut down the browser window or tab. Be wary of popups or bad ads that may have fake buttons that resemble the usual close button - if clicked, you could end up downloading malware. It’s best to avoid interacting with the alert at all.

Alternately, if your browser isn't locked up, you can simply navigate away from the site, by tapping in a new URL in the toolbar.

Check what webpage you were browsing and consider avoiding it for a while – it may have been hacked in order to push these malicious alerts.

Finally, avoid accidentally landing on sketchy websites by turning up the protection in your browser:

On Chrome, head to Settings > Site (or Content) Settings > Pop-ups and redirects to block these.

On Safari, head to iOS Settings > Safari and toggle on Block Pop-ups and also toggle on Fraudulent Website Warning.

Hijacked websites

Unfortunately, there’s also a chance that pop-up you saw is part of a trend for ‘malvertising’ – where malware makes it into ad networks and are distributed among the network’s myriad sites.

Even reputable sites can be hijacked without site admins realizing. Hijacked sites may also redirect you to webpages you never clicked on. These pop-ups and misdirects can continue to plague your browsing experience even after you restart your browser.

How to fix it:  

First, make sure you never enter any information asked for in a popup, or a website that you didn’t specifically navigate to.

If the popups or redirects to another site keep happening, shut down your browser.

On iOS, double-tap the Home button or half swipe up on your iOS device to see all open apps, then slide your browser app away.

On Android, tap the rightmost square to see all open apps, then flick away the browser app.

Also, clear your browsing data. On Safari, head to iOS Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data. On Chrome, tap the top-right three dots, then Settings > Privacy > Clear Browsing Data.

Adware infection

If your smartphone browser continues to popup alerts despite taking the above precautions, it’s possible your phone is already infected with a type of malware called adware. Adware causes advertisements to pop up on the infected phone, forcing users to view particular pages that turn revenue based on clicks. It can also pop up advertisements for downloadable content such as games, which, if installed, can have even greater consequences for users’ data and finances. (This is far more likely for Android users, as the incidence of malware on iOS, at least for non-jailbroken devices, is extremely low due to Apple’s restrictive app store policy.)

Malware can land on phones through downloading bad apps or by surfing to a website compromised by ‘drive-by downloads’ that allow malware to instigate itself in a user’s device without the user having clicked on anything.

How to fix it:

To rid your Android phone of malware, the easiest way is to run an antivirus scan with a mobile security app, such as from Kaspersky, Norton, or Lookout Mobile Security.

However, if that doesn’t sort out your pop-up problem, you may need to do a factory reset that will clear your phone of all data – including the problematic app and malware.

For iOS, head to Settings > General > Reset and then select Erase All Content and Settings. 

For Android, head to Settings > System > Reset Options > Erase all data.

Once you’re cleared, you can focus on prevention: always update your browser and your smartphone OS. Updates usually patch vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malware.

Obnoxious ads

We’ve all seen and heard them – huge banners, sneaky auto-playing music, and unasked for pop-up windows are all examples of intrusive ads that disrupt users’ browsing experiences while providing zero benefit to their purveyor. After all, if you’re not liking, you’re not clicking. A recent survey found that 73% of people dislike pop-up ads, and 70% dislike mobile ads – making the pop-up ad on your smartphone perhaps the most obnoxious beast of all. 

How to fix it:

On Android: The Chrome browser for Android has a popup- and ad-blocker that selectively prevents intrusive ads from displaying, using the standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads. This should be on by default, but if you’re still getting obnoxious pop-ups and/or ads, head into Settings > Site Settings and tap on ‘Pop-ups and redirects’ and ‘Ads’ to disable them from displaying. Note that the blocker doesn’t block all ads – only the irritating ones.

On iOS: Chrome on iOS doesn’t have the same ad-filtering feature, but iOS users on Chrome or Safari can still avoid pop-ups. On Chrome, head to Settings> Content settings > Block Pop-ups; for Safari, head into the main Settings > Safari and toggle on Block Pop-ups.

iOS users might also want to check out an ad blocker app, like AdBlock Plus or AdGuard. Once downloaded, you can enable them in Settings > Safari > Content blockers.

Website notifications

The most innocuous reason for a popup is that a website has been allowed to push alerts and all you have to do is close the alert, then tweak a setting to prevent websites from sending these notifications. Popular sites such as Pinterest or the New York Times often request permission to push alerts of new posts, and you may have agreed at some point. But fret not:

How to fix it:

On Chrome, tap the three dots in the top right, then Settings > Notifications > Sites, where you’ll see a list of sites that can send alerts. You can uncheck certain sites, or disable them all from showing notifications.

Safari on iOS doesn’t allow websites to send these push notifications.

Updated on 10/7/2020 with new tips

[Image credit: smartphone with popup ad via BigStockPhoto]



Discussion loading

Mr

From Mark on April 30, 2020 :: 7:11 am

I am close my home phone and my route down because of
php is hacking my accounts worded what would happen when they use their cctv

Reply

Is this fake or real IPad is hacked

From Jaze on January 21, 2021 :: 8:14 pm

My iPad just said “your iPad may be hacked” and something like “ your info could be given to a cyber hacker”, and it told me to download something in less than 30 seconds. I closed out of it as stupid as I was, and then searched up “your iPad may be hacked how to fix it” and I came here. If it is real please give advice. IF YOU SEE THIS PLEASE RESPOND! I did that in caps so you and others might see this.

Reply

fake, fake, fake

From Josh Kirschner on January 22, 2021 :: 11:37 am

That is clearly a fake popup warning like what we describe above. You did the right thing by ignoring it and not downloading anything.

Reply

Spy Block Online Protection

From Ibrahim on February 21, 2021 :: 11:49 am

Is Spy Block Online Protection is a genuine app from apple or is it part of the scam?

Reply

Potentially part of the scam

From Josh Kirschner on February 21, 2021 :: 12:18 pm

If you’re seeing a scareware popup for an app you don’t have installed, it is likely part of the scam. It doesn’t necessarily mean the app itself is involved in the scam, sometimes third-parties create these scams to generate affiliate commissions.

I DOWNLOADED IT

From Victoria Zermeno on March 20, 2021 :: 7:17 pm

I downloaded the app it told me to am I in trouble?

Reply

Probably not, but delete ASAP

From Josh Kirschner on March 21, 2021 :: 10:08 pm

Most of these apps are harmless, their goal is to scare you into paying money for the subscription. But there’s no way to know for sure, so it’s a good idea to delete it as soon as possible - you’re probably ok after that.

Hacked phone

From Rainier conoman on February 24, 2021 :: 2:44 am

I’m aware my phone is hacked for other reasons.please recommend how to track the hacker..TY..

Reply

hacked phone?

From hacked phone??. on April 12, 2021 :: 3:04 pm

i went to a website on my phone and then the message “your apple iphone has been hacked, all operations on your device is being tracked by the hacker. immediate action is required!” it then led me to a link in the appstore for me to download something. is it fake or real?

Reply

Fake-ity fake fake

From Josh Kirschner on April 17, 2021 :: 4:19 pm

Completely and utterly fake scam popup.

Reply

Fake pop up

From ML on April 23, 2021 :: 4:29 pm

Hey there, same thing with the fake virus you’ve been hacked do something fast blabla happened to me randomly clicking on some pinterest link for a bag smh but I did get scared and since it looked so official I did download some prime ware or whatever antivirus app and typed in my apple password when downloading it from the apple store I got redirected to howevee thankfully my friend showed me its fake so I didn’t pay them or type my credit card and I deleted the app aprox 5-10min later. I also changed my apple ID pass, I hope I’m not in trouble now for my data?

Reply

Phone password

From SR on May 18, 2021 :: 3:49 am

Hi,
I had a message on my iphone last week which said my spotify account may have been compromised and then my phone password screen came on so I put in the password, then I immediately realised I’d made a mistake as I don’t have spotify and so I changed the password straight away, but now worried my phone’s been hacked but I can’t tell. Any advice much appreciated. Thanks.

Reply

What device are you running?

From Josh Kirschner on May 20, 2021 :: 10:20 am

My concern is that, by entering your password, you gave permission for an app to be downloaded onto your device. I would run a full scan using one of the antimalware options we link to in the story above.

If you entered your Google or iCloud password, and not your phone password, you should immediately change those.

Reply

I have forwarded a message

From Radha on May 18, 2021 :: 1:55 pm

I have forwarded a message to some people saying that we will win an Amazon gift if we sent some message so I did same. At last I got a message like your iPhone is hacked. Wat I have to do now?

Reply

The two are probably unrelated

From Josh Kirschner on May 20, 2021 :: 10:23 am

While the Amazon gift card thing is clearly a hoax or scam (which you should not have forwarded), it is likely just coincidental that you later received a popup saying your phone is hacked. Though I suppose it is possible through ad targeting that they could be popping up those fake iPhone hacked ads to those who interacted with the fake Amazon gift card message as a way of targeting people they already know to be susceptible to obvious scams.

Reply

Hacked phone and camera?

From R.M. on May 29, 2021 :: 11:48 pm

I went on a website that said a hacker had access to my phone camera, and later it said my phone had been hijacked. I closed the website, were those popups just trying to scare me or something?

Reply

Yes, they were trying to scare you

From Josh Kirschner on June 01, 2021 :: 6:56 pm

Yes, those popups were trying to scare you. Don’t visit that website again grin

Reply

Hacked/Virus

From N Beresford on June 08, 2021 :: 3:10 am

I’ve had pop ups on my phone saying my iPhone has been hacked plus has a virus. It doesn’t tell me to download anything at all. In my calendar it shows that on the hr every hr my phones hacked. Is this something worth worrying about?

Reply

Sounds like standard scareware

From Josh Kirschner on June 08, 2021 :: 10:34 am

This sounds like standard scareware. If the message isn’t asking you to download something, what is it asking you to do?

Reply

Hacked

From N beresford on June 08, 2021 :: 6:00 pm

All it is is a https address underneath where it says I been hacked

Reply

Yeah, that's a scam

From Josh Kirschner on June 09, 2021 :: 9:04 am

Sounds like there is a link to a page that will try to sell you something or install actual malware. That is a clear scareware scam.

Hacked

From Jon on June 09, 2021 :: 1:09 pm

Iv been hacked & told that if I don’t record myself doing a naked dance & send it to them they will then empty my bank account. Not sure wot to do as I’m a lousy dancer. Any advice on dance moves would b appreciated

Reply

IPhone pop up saying I’ve been hacked

From Thea on August 26, 2021 :: 6:12 am

I’ve had a notification pop up on my iPhone saying I’ve been hacked is this true and how do I stop it

Reply

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