San Diego

Are ‘Bad Bots' Using Your Phone to Commit Crimes?

Hackers can take control of your phone, and you would never know. The key to preventing them is knowing some warning signs.

The term "mobile bots" sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie but these programs are becoming a part of our everyday life. And some are much closer than you think.

In fact, according to a new study from San Francisco based tech company, Distil Network, so-called “bad-bots” could be on your phone now, under control of an anonymous hacker who hopes to crack someone else’s password, or steal pin numbers, or even drive up ticket prices for events.

The study found those bots could have been installed on your smartphone and tablet without you ever knowing it, while you were standing in a line at your local coffee-shop or in the bleachers of your child’s ball game.

In the study, Distil Networks found that as many as 16 million phones and tablets may be infected with bots, doing a hacker’s dirty work while the owners are completely unaware.

"You're making requests when it's sitting in their pocket,” said Edward Roberts, Director of Product Marketing for Distil Networks in an interview with NBC Bay Area. “They have no idea it's happening." 

That’s because the bots may have been installed by something as small as clicking on a link or downloading an attachment in an email or text.

"It's another one of those techniques where the bot operators are trying to hide and escalating the problem, and it's a problem that's going to be very difficult to solve," Roberts told NBC Bay Area.

So what can you do to minimize the threat of bad bots taking over your personal device?

You can start by treating your phone or tablet much like you would your computer at home. That means installing anti-virus software and other preventative measures.

“Most people don’t have antivirus and malware detecting software installed on their phones,” said Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.

“We wouldn’t dream of that on our desktops and our laptops. We need to have that same mindset when it comes to our tablets and our mobile phones,” added Velasquez.

And while software may be a first step, it’s not the solution.

"They keep changing and keep hiding and keep trying to appear more human-like in order to avoid detection," said Edward Roberts from Distil Networks.

As for advice, NBC 7 Responds has some tips:

  • First; be careful about the websites you click on
  • Never open questionable email attachments, even if it's coming from someone you know. 
  • And, tell your family to do the same.
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