Yes, a SIM card can be hacked, but most methods need access to your phone. There’s a very slim chance your SIM card is actually cloned, but if you’re concerned, you should absolutely check. Fortunately, doing so is very easy.
I’m Aaron, a cybersecurity professional and hobbyist device hacker. I like tinkering and sharing my experience with people like you.
Let’s dig into how a SIM card is hacked and how to tell whether yours was hacked or not.
Table of Contents
- Key Takeaways
- How SIM Cards Are Hacked
- How You Can Tell the SIM Card is Cloned
- How to Protect Yourself
- SIM cards can be hacked by access to the SIM card or phone company.
- You’ll know your SIM card is hacked because you’ll stop receiving messages, calls, and see your phone somewhere you’re not.
- You can protect yourself by not giving out information about your SIM card.
- Remember, you can always ask for a new SIM card and your old SIM card to be disabled.
How SIM Cards Are Hacked
When I talk about SIM Card hacking, I’m talking about cloning or copying the card. The person who possesses the cloned or copied card can then be used to pretend to be the person to whom the original SIM card belongs.
SIM cards can be hacked in three different ways…
The first way requires taking physical possession of the SIM card. The SIM card is then inserted into a SIM card copier. All the data is copied to another card. The new SIM card can then operate identically to the original.
This can be done legitimately if you get a new phone that uses a different kind of SIM card than the one you have. Copying the data over means that you get to keep your phone number, contacts, and other information copied to or associated with the SIM card.
Another way to copy a SIM card involves…
A threat actor can swap your number to a different SIM card and associate their number with yours. If that sounds complicated, it is. It requires access to your phone provider’s user database.
Access to that database (or databases) typically only happens if someone works for the phone company or has hacked into the phone company’s resources. SIM swapping can be malicious, meaning done intentionally to steal or misuse the SIM card, or it can happen accidentally.
A third way to copy a SIM card is…
This is a SIM swapping scheme where an intermediary enacts SIM swapping through seemingly legitimate means. An attacker will pretend to be you with your phone provider, using information they’ve gathered about you, and request that your SIM card be transferred to a new card.
The attacker will then pass verification information along to you requesting that you verify or otherwise provide your current SIM card number. Once they have that information, they can successfully request your phone provider to transfer the SIM card.
How You Can Tell the SIM Card is Cloned
There are a few things to look for that can tell you your SIM Card is or will be cloned.
1. Restart Request
You’ll receive an unprompted request from your phone provider to provide your SIM card number or restart your phone. When your phone restarts, the threat actor will clone your SIM card.
Note that the request is unprompted. If you call your phone provider to troubleshoot a problem, they may ask for that information. Make sure you’re actually talking to your phone provider by dialing their publicly available numbers online.
Your phone may also ask you to restart to apply operating system updates. That will appear on an update screen or happen automatically. You won’t receive a text, call, or email to do that.
You may also notice…
2. No Texts or Calls
If you’ve gone an extended period of time without a call or text, then your SIM card may be cloned. For some people, this isn’t dispositive, but you should pay attention to not getting texts when you expect to do so.
If that isn’t helpful, then look for…
3. Different Location
If your phone tells you that you’re in a location you’re absolutely not in, then it’s likely that’s because a copy of your SIM card is in that location.
This isn’t a particularly helpful diagnosis if you use location-changing tools or if there’s an error from your phone company. Still, this element in combination with others can indicate your SIM card is cloned.
How to Protect Yourself
There are a few simple ways to protect yourself from SIM card cloning:
- Don’t let your phone out of your sight. If you give your phone to someone else, make sure they don’t take it out of your sight unless you trust them.
- Don’t respond to texts about your SIM card. Ignore attempts to gather information only you should know and possess.
- If you get a call purportedly from your phone company, hang up and call them back. Your phone company won’t be upset by this. If you use publicly available support numbers and the issue is legitimate, you’ll still be able to address it.
If you think you’re a victim of SIM card cloning, ask your phone company to issue you a new SIM card.
Here are some answers to questions frequently asked related to SIM cloning.
What Happens if Someone Cloned My SIM Card?
Their phone will act like your phone. They’ll have access to your calls, texts, and other sensitive information. That information can be used to steal money or otherwise circumvent multi-factor authentication.
Can My Phone be Cloned Without Me Knowing?
Yes! If the hacker has access to your SIM, account, and app information then they can clone different elements of your phone and gain access to your data.
Can Someone Steal My SIM Card and Use It In Another Phone?
Absolutely. If someone has physical possession of your SIM card, they can insert it into their compatible mobile device and use it.
Your SIM card can be cloned. Hackers either need access to the SIM card itself or information on the SIM card. If they clone it, though, you’ll be able to tell. Either you’ll have extreme service disruptions, receive unexpected messages, or will receive unexpected location data.
Remember, you can always ask for a new SIM card and disable the old one.
Do you have odd cell phone behavior stories? Let me know in the comments below!