Protect your iPhone from hackers
Lewis Painter explains how to protect an iPhone from hackers
Welcome to our complete guide to iPhone security, where you’ll find essential tips to protect the sensitive data on your iPhone from the prying eyes of hackers.
In 2016, headlines focused on Apple and the FBI’s battle to hack or unlock an iPhone. It caused concerns about the safety of private data on an iPhone, as they store a variety of sensitive information including website logins, email addresses, text messages and even photos and videos.
While iOS is pretty secure, there are ways to make sure that your iPhone is as secure from hackers as it can be – and here is where we show you how.
1. Keep iOS up to date
Our first tip on securing your iPhone against potential hackers is a fairly simple one – make sure that you’re always running the most recent iteration of iOS, including smaller ‘dot’ updates.
Hackers occasionally find flaws in Apple’s coding, which they can exploit, potentially giving them access to your personal data. New iOS updates are Apple’s way of combatting the exploits by patching any holes in the OS while implementing better stability enhancements.
To update to the latest version of iOS, open the Settings app and tap General > Software update. You’ll either be welcomed by a note letting you know you’re already running the most up to date version of iOS, or be prompted to download and install the latest update.
The latest version of iOS is iOS 11, but point updates for iOS 11 are regularly released so it’s important to keep an eye out for those.
2. Activate Find my iPhone
Another step you can take in the war against hackers attacking your iPhone is to activate ‘Find my iPhone’. If you lose your handset, then you can log onto Find My iPhone from another iOS device or via the web and remotely wipe your device, taking your personal data with it.
This means that even if the hacker did manage to gain access to your lost/stolen device, they’d find
nothing. To remotely wipe your iPhone, log in to the Find my iPhone app (or iCloud website), select your iPhone, tap ‘Erase iPhone’ and confirm the action. The next time it has an internet connection (if it doesn’t already) it’ll automatically wipe itself.
3. Create a longer passcode
We all know and love the 4-digit pin protection that Apple employs, but the one in 10,000 chance of
someone guessing your pin correctly the first time may be worrying for some users – especially those with sensitive and private data stored on their iPhones. While you can up the passcode to six digits, that may still not be enough to deter hackers. What can you do instead? Use a passphrase. While passcodes only use numbers 0 to 9, a passphrase includes numbers, letters, symbols and case-sensitivity, which should make your iPhone a lot harder to break into, although it may take a little longer to unlock your iPhone when you want to use it.
To change from pin to passphrase, open the Settings app and go to Touch ID & Passcode (or Face ID & Passcode for an iPhone X), then Change Passcode. Tap Change Passcode, then type in your current Passcode and choose ‘Passcode Options when it asks you to enter a new one. Now select ‘Custom Alphanumeric Code’. You should then be prompted to create a more complex password comprised of not only numbers, but letters, symbols too.
(On the subject of passwords, you can significantly improve your security by using a password manager. See our round-up on page 77)
4. Auto-wipe iPhone content
Our next suggestion may be a little unnerving for some people, but is a great option if you feel like someone is trying to guess your iPhone passcode. The idea is that after ten incorrect passcode guesses, the iPhone will automatically wipe all content and thus make the smartphone useless to the hacker. It’s slightly worrying as we’ve known people to accidentally activate the
feature (usually when under the influence of alcohol) and delete all their personal information.
These are usually the same people that tend not to use automatic iCloud backup, so if you do enable the option we’d advise also turning on automatic iCloud backup so if your data is wiped (due to an accident or someone trying to hack you) you’ll have everything saved in the cloud. To enable the rather nuclear option, simply head to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode, scroll to the bottom of the page and toggle on ‘Erase Data’.
5. Avoid opening unknown links
This one is self-explanatory – if you receive an unknown link via text, email or randomly on the web, don’t click on it. This could potentially pose a threat to your device and even though it may not be able to hack your iPhone directly, some pose as popular email clients like Gmail to gain access to your email account.
The pages usually look pretty close to the real thing, so this type of scam is common and it always pays to keep your wits about you.
The general rule is that if you don’t trust the look of the email/message then just don’t bother opening it. The same goes for email attachments too, although there
aren’t many (if any at all) cases where hackers have been able to gain access to an iPhone via this method, and this is more of a general tip.
6. Revoke app permissions
The next step to take in the war against hackers is to revoke access to apps. When you use iOS apps you’ll often be prompted to allow the app to access things like the camera, microphone, contacts, and so on, to use the app to the fullest extent.
Even though allowing access means you can use every feature of the app, the app may also be able to access your private information.
Either way, if you feel like you’ve installed a less-than-reputable app on your iPhone, you can either delete it or head to Settings > Privacy, select the permission you’d like to revoke and toggle the application off – sadly this has to be done on a per-permission basis as there’s no way to toggle permissions off all at once.
7. Turn off Siri
Apple’s personal assistant, Siri, is a great feature of iOS and provides users with a way of using their smartphone hands-free.
However, no matter how helpful Siri may be to users, it can also provide hackers with personal data. Siri will
often ask for some kind of verification before allowing access to contacts, photos and other types of sensitive information, but there have been multiple occasions where people have found workarounds completely bypassing the iPhone passcode and providing easy access to the device.
To disable access to Siri on the lock screen, simply head to Settings > Touch ID and Passcode and toggle the ‘allow access when locked’ option off.
8. Turn off auto-fill
The same can be said about Apple’s auto-fill feature in Safari. Apple’s Keychain stores website logins, prompting users to save the information after successfully logging into their account.
It’s a hugely handy feature as it means we don’t have to remember the login information for the myriad of websites we browse – and the same goes for credit/debit card information. Simply tap a button and Apple will fill out all your credit/debit card information, apart from your security code.
However, if a hacker does manage to gain access to your iPhone, it provides them with access to all your online logins. To disable keychain and auto-fill, simply go to Settings > Safari > AutoFill and toggle off each option.
9. How to avoid iCloud photo leaks and hacks
The past couple of years have seen a swathe of celebrity photo leaks. As usual on the web, famous women get the worst treatment – which in this case means the widespread posting of nude photos. And in a lot of cases an iPhone, or an iCloud account, has been involved. That doesn’t mean that Apple hardware and software services are fundamentally insecure. In fact, we feel confident in saying that the iPhone is the most secure mainstream smartphone on the market right now. But it does show that nobody can be complacent about the security of their most personal data and photos. We therefore recommend two-step authentication and an audit of your secure questions.