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4 Ways to Keep Your Phone From Being Hijacked

4 Ways to Keep Your Phone From Being Hijacked

By    |   Monday, 01 April 2019 09:08 AM

Our cellphone numbers are a key aspect of our identity. We use them to contact friends, send WhatsApp messages, access the internet, and — importantly — as a unique identifier to prove who we are.

Because of this, when we lose access to cellphone accounts, it really matters. But what if this wasn't the end of the story?

What if, when you lose your account access, it's only the start of a nightmare where your number becomes a weapon to blitz your online accounts?

In 2018, a cryptocurrency investor sued AT&T for $224 million, alleging he lost $24 million in virtual currency after the carrier failed to stop two separate attacks where his phone number was commandeered by attackers.  Unfortunately, the possibility still exists, and it has a name: SIM hijacking.

On the other hand, there are countermeasures we can use to protect ourselves, from PINs and cautious social media use to VPNs — which could be the most important of all.

What is SIM Hijack?

SIM hijack is a technique used by criminals to steal your mobile phone account. By leveraging personal information about a target, criminals can often persuade phone companies to transfer phone numbers to new SIMs, which they can then insert in fresh handsets.

When this happens, the original SIM owner often loses their account completely - because their SIM has effectively been deactivated. After that, attackers can pose as the owner, using their number to bypass authentication processes for all sorts of services. From banking to social media, they can cause a huge amount of damage when the hijack has been successful.

Anyone can be targeted, and the effects can be devastating. But if you follow these tips, you can minimize your exposure to this nasty online threat.

1. Keep Your Cellphone Number as Private as Possible

To carry out a SIM hijack, criminals need to know some key information — and the most important of all is the cellphone number of their target. With this in their possession, it's much easier to swap SIMs.

Because of this, most mobile security experts recommend being very cautious about linking cellphone numbers to social media accounts. However, many of us still reflexively connect our numbers and accounts, preferring convenience over safety.

This doesn't just apply to social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, by the way. Even email providers like Gmail ask for permission to link to cellphone numbers, so erasing this information can be pretty time-consuming.

If you do want to link your accounts to a phone number, it's much better to use a Voice Over IP number. Essentially "virtual" phone numbers, these services send voice data over the web and can be connected straight to cell phones. Because they use IP addresses, they can be used in conjunction with the second recommendation to boost your SIM hijacking defense.

2. Use a High-Quality Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Secondly, be sure to protect your smartphones and desktops with a Virtual Private Network. VPNs encrypt the data you send across VOIP numbers and the web in general, making your data much less visible to cybercriminals. They can also help to secure your browsing while using public wifi - which can be a venue for SIM hijacking attacks, and generally, dissuade criminals from seeing you as a viable target.

However, not all VPNs are equal. So you'll need to source a reliable VPN service providers which delivers rock-solid IP leakage protection from hackers and cybercriminals when you’re working in a café or from repressive governments, and can take you past geo-blocking.

3. Boost Your Basic Smartphone Security Measures With Authentication

Another key measure to head off SIM hijacking is to add as many verification procedures as possible to your cellphone account. If you just rely on a single password, you're putting yourself at undue risk. Criminals can often crack passwords — especially if they are connected to personal information.

So if your cellphone provider offers Two Factor Authentication (2FA), it may be worth investigating. Good providers should also offer authentication procedures for accessing customer support. Remember, criminals seeking access to your SIM often seek to trick customer service centers, but if they need to pass through extra hoops to speak to service representatives, their tricks won't get far.

4. Defend Yourself with a Smartphone PIN

Finally, you can add a Personal Identification Number to almost any SIM cards. This works alongside 2FA, creating a formidable set of protections against SIM hijackers.

Setting up a PIN has to be agreed with your carrier - who needs to know that the number has been set by the user. Virtually all major US networks provide the service and tend to make it easy to set a PIN. In almost all cases, you just need to log into your cellphone account and choose the "Set PIN" option.

What do I do if I fall victim to SIM theft?

Firstly, many people are slow to realize that they have been targeted. But if you notice your reception dropping in areas where it's normally fine, there's a chance you've become a victim.

In that case, don't panic. Contact your phone company as soon as you can, and explain the situation. They will lock your account and supply a new SIM.

Change any passwords for services like online banking and social media, and monitor transactions for suspicious activity. And don't be afraid to log the attack as a crime. Too few people do so, emboldening SIM hijackers to strike again. Prevention is better than cure. Beef up your passwords so that your risk of suffering a hijack is much, much lower.

Richard Agu is a researcher, entrepreneur and freelancer, passionate about entrepreneurship and self-development. Currently, Richard writes for Entrepreneur.com, Goodmenproject.com, among others. Follow him on Linkedin.com by clicking here now.

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Our cellphone numbers are a key aspect of our identity. We use them to contact friends, send WhatsApp messages, access the internet, and - importantly - as a unique identifier to prove who we are.
phone, hijack, sim
Monday, 01 April 2019 09:08 AM
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