How to Protect Your iPhone From Hackers

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My name is Gabe, and I’m addicted to my iPhone (cue chorus of “Hi Gabe!”). Whether it’s listening to a podcast on my way to work, doing quick calculations as my mental math skills have almost completely deteriorated, or putting everything from movies to doctors appointments in my calendar, there’s hardly ever a moment when I don’t have my iPhone by my side. So if it were to be hacked, I’d be in deep trouble, risking information about my credit and debit cards, location, social security number, and more.

But don’t throw away your iPhone just yet! There are a number of ways to prevent hackers from gaining access to your iPhone, and none of them require much time or effort. In just a few minutes, you can go from zero to hero, security-wise. Let’s get started!

Don’t Jailbreak

iPhone Jailbreak
iPhone Jailbreak

No, this isn’t a game of Monopoly. Jailbreaking your iPhone means that you have complete control over your iPhone, avoiding Apple’s restrictions. That means you’ll be able to use apps from places other than Apple’s official app store, plus make any tweaks to your phone’s iOS. However, I don’t recommend jailbreaking because with freedom comes lack of security.

First of all, you shouldn’t be downloading apps that aren’t from the app store, as they haven’t been screened for malware. In fact, when you jailbreak your phone, you’re basically taking down all of the security measures that Apple has built into their iPhones— think of it like bulldozing the fence around your house. While you might appreciate the view, you’re a lot more vulnerable than you were before. Jailbreaking also removes the iPhone’s virus protection, plus, you won’t be able to easily update your iOS, which could lead to further problems (more on this later).

Make iPhone Lock Sooner

iPhone Auto Lock
iPhone Auto Lock

In the moments where we don’t have our iPhones on hand, you might have noticed that they lock, forcing you to enter in your passcode or biometrics like your fingerprint or face. While it might be annoying to have to sign in every time, ultimately, it’s protecting your device, so I recommend setting your auto-lock to 30 seconds, meaning it will lock with no activity for 30 seconds.  And if you don’t have the lock turned on at all, needless to say, you should probably change that.

Just go into Settings, then tap on Display and Brightness, and finally tap on Auto-Lock to adjust your settings. Another benefit of auto-lock? It will save your battery, because God knows how much anxiety I get seeing my charge dip below 80%! Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

Perform All iOS Updates

iOS Software Updates on iPhone
iOS Software Updates on iPhone

Apple has people working around the clock to improve the iPhone’s security, so if there’s ever an iOS update, do it. This month alone, Apple made three security updates to its products, so although these updates can be annoying, they’re incredibly necessary for keeping up with the latest and greatest in Apple’s security software. I recommend doing them at night so you’re never without your iPhone in your waking hours!

Set up Two-Factor Authentication

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Two-Factor Authentication

If you’ve been paying attention, then you know that it’s a smart idea to turn on auto-lock so you’ll have to enter a passcode to access your iPhone, but if you want to take that a step further, I’d set up two-factor authentication. That way, if someone guesses your passcode, they still won’t be able to access your phone, as Apple will send you another code via text or phone call. Again, this will make opening your iPhone a bit more tedious, but it’s a fantastic idea if you’re serious about avoiding hackers. To turn two-factor authentication on with the most recent iOS, simply go into Settings, click on your name and then click on Password and Security. Turn on two-factor authentication and you’re done!

Turn On Find My iPhone

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Find My iPhone

I can’t imagine the carnal fear and devastation that comes with losing one’s iPhone, especially if you don’t have “Find My iPhone” turned on. Find My iPhone lets you track your device even if it’s lost or stolen. You’ll be able to log into iCloud.com or the Find My iPhone app to see exactly where your iPhone is on a map. From there, you can make it play a sound, “use Lost Mode to lock and track it, or remotely erase all of your personal information,” according to Apple’s website. Simply go into settings, then click on your name and iCloud. At the bottom, you’ll see where it says Find My iPhone— turn this on along with Send Last Location and you’ll never lose track of your iPhone again!

Create Long Passcode

iPhone Passcode
iPhone Passcode

When choosing a passcode, people tend to do something fairly obvious, like their birthday, numbers in chronological order, or a portion of their phone number. Needless to say, this isn’t the safest practice. Rather, the numbers should be truly random, and be sure to use a six-digital passcode, the longest possible. While it will be a bit harder to remember this number, it will also be harder for hackers to guess, which is ultimately a good thing for your phone’s security.

On iPhone X or later, tap Settings then Face ID and Passcode, or for earlier iPhones, Touch ID and passcode. Make sure you turn your passcode on, change it to a random assortment of six numbers, and require that your phone uses the passcode to let you in.

Turn On Erase Data

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Erase Data Mode on iPhone

Now, what if your iPhone is lost or stolen and for some reason, your hackers are able to access your account? Of course, this is a worst-case scenario, but in a weird way, thinking about what to do in these situations is kind of my job. Don’t worry: there is a solution. Turning on Erase Data, otherwise known as setting your iPhone to self-destruct.

Just go into Settings, click on your Apple ID, then go into iCloud and Find My iPhone, which you should ensure is on. From there if your phone is stolen, you’ll be able to go on the Find My iPhone app or iCloud.com to erase your phone’s data manually.

The other option is having the phone automatically “self-destruct” after too many failed passcode attempts. Simply go into Settings, Touch ID and Passcode or Face ID and Passcode, make sure your passcode is turned on, and then switch Erase Data to on and click Enable. Of course, this is a more extreme measure, but both will ultimately increase your iPhone’s security.

Avoid Phishing and Pop-Ups

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Phishing

Phishing has gotten increasingly sophisticated, sending tech-savvy people ostensibly legitimate links and pop-up ads. While phishing is a topic I have a lot more to say about, there are some basics I want to impart to you. Don’t email any sensitive information unless you are sure of the recipient, and don’t click on any links unless you are sure they are legitimate.

I know what you’re thinking: easier said then done. But there are a few simple ways to tell if a website is safe. The majority of legitimate websites nowadays start in HTTPS, so that’s a good place to start, although it isn’t 100% effective in every case. You can also use Google Safe Browsing to test links for malware. Unfortunately, the current iOS doesn’t allow for link-scanning apps, but here is an easy website where you can copy and paste your link and see if it’s legit.

Use End-to-End Encryption

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Encryption

Encryption turns your text into inscrutable code, useful if a hacker ends up with control of your iPhone. Particularly with your private messages, there’s a lot of data on your iPhone for your eyes only, no doubt. End-to-end encryption makes sure that the only people reading your messages are you, and of course, the person you’re speaking to. Every single messages has its own lock and key that automatically grants you both access.

Here’s the good news: Apple uses end-to-end encryption for iMessage and Facetime, however, if you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t have an iPhone, your messages won’t be encrypted. I recommend using a separate app like Whatsapp, which will provide total end-to-end encryption for all of your messages. Of course, Whatsapp isn’t the only option, so be sure to check out some other great options for end-to-end encryption messaging.

Turn Auto-Fill Off

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Auto-Fill Forms

Auto-fill, which fills out forms automatically with your personal and financial information, is both incredibly convenient and incredibly dangerous if your phone gets in the wrong hands. What’s to stop a hacker or thief from using your credit card information to buy themselves a new wardrobe from Supreme? While it might make your life a bit more tedious, it is the safest idea to turn off auto-fill on your iPhone. To do so, go into Settings, click on Safari (or whatever web browser you use on your iPhone) and then make sure AutoFill is turned off.

Change Apple ID Regularly

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Password Generator

We all like to think we have good hygiene, but have you ever taken a second to think about your password hygiene? Just like socks, passwords should be changed regularly, particularly your Apple ID as it grants access to your entire iPhone. I recommend using a password manager to tell you when your passwords are old, weak or repeated, and to generate long and complicated replacements. On your iPhone, hop back into Settings, click on your name, and then next to Reachable At, click edit and delete your Apple ID. Press continue and then make a new one! There, now you’re as password hygienic as can be (for your Apple ID, at least).

Avoid Public Networks

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VPNs

Living in Brooklyn, I’ve sat in my fair share of coffee shops, and using their public networks seems like the natural thing to do. However, I would recommend avoiding it, as it can make your device much easier to hack. Instead, employ a VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network. VPNs hide all of your web traffic in an encrypted tunnel, replacing your phone’s IP address with another one. To explore your options, check out my list of the best VPNs of 2019.

Limit App Permissions

Limit App Permissions on iPhone
Limit App Permissions on iPhone

While I admittedly depend on iPhone apps for 90% of my daily activities, there’s a great argument to be made for limiting what they can access. Take your phone’s microphone for example. While it’s definitely useful for some apps, many apps will ask for permission to use your mic when it’s really not necessary. Similarly, many apps will ask for things like your location, your health data, and more.

Every time you download an app, make sure to view its permissions in the Settings section of your phone. Of course, you should go back to the current apps you have on your phone and adjust their permissions as well. This might be a bit time-consuming, but ultimately, it’ll boost your privacy, which is kind of why you’re here in the first place!

Only Use Trusted Charging Stations

Picture this: you’re out and about when suddenly you realize that your iPhone’s battery is on its last legs. Do you let it die or risk using a public charging station? Sure, attacks on these charging stations aren’t widespread, but you’re always at risk when you use a USB port, as it sends not just power but data as well. That makes it easy for a charging port to access the private data on your phone or run malware, an attack known as “juice jacking”. To be as safe as possible, you should avoid public charging stations completely, but otherwise, there are a few tricks to up your security.

  • Use an AC outlet: As opposed to a USB charging ports, AC power outlets don’t transmit any data whatsoever.
  • Use a charge-only USB adapter or a USB data blocker: If an AC outlet isn’t available to you, carry around a USB charge-only adapter or something that will block the transmission of data. While your charging speed will slow down significantly, only the power will be transmitted and not the data. Check out the USB Data Blocker from PortaPow, which actually clips between the USB cable and the charger to block your data from transferring and syncing.

A safer option? Utilize a portable battery charger rather than using a public charging station. Check out this option from Anker.

Disable Siri on Lock Screen

Disable Siri on iPhone Lock Screen
Disable Siri on iPhone Lock Screen

Siri, the iPhone’s trusted voice assistant, can be super helpful, allowing you to access information and play music hands-free. However, if you can access Siri from your lock screen, then you might be leaving your poor little iPhone vulnerable. Recently, a security flaw on the iOS 7 let anyone with Siri-enabled bypass the passcode so that they could make calls, send messages, go on social media, and what have you.

Of course, Apple fixed this bug, but to be on the safe side you should probably open Settings, head into Siri, and turn off Access When Locked. You know what they say: better safe than sorry!

Disable Location Tracking

In the digital world, you’re never alone, and that’s never been more true than with GPS tracking. If you have location turned on on your iPhone, then you’re making it a lot more simple for someone to find you and unfortunately, that includes hackers. To fix this, head into Settings, then Privacy, then Location Services. Then, scroll all the way down to System Services and then turn Significant Locations off. This means that Apple will stop tracking your locations, although you’ll have to turn off locations for apps individually.

Use Ad-blocking and Malware Protection Software

An obvious way to avoid ads and malware is to download a software. While you may already have this installed on your computer, it’s easy to forget that it’s also necessary on your iPhone. Don’t know which software to use? Check out our list of the best iPhone apps to block ads and malware.

Turn Off Wi-Fi When Not In Use

Turn Off WiFi On iPhone
Turn Off WiFi On iPhone

I like to be connected at all times as much as the next millennial, but the truth is, if you’re always on Wi-Fi, you’re at risk of someone accessing your network, so make sure it’s only turned on when you actually need it.

Recap

Using your iPhone doesn’t have to be a security risk if you take these steps! For more information, leave a comment below. I’m always happy to answer any and all questions, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner is an attorney and journalist with a passion for home tech and secure, efficient living. Since graduating from NYU Law, he has maintained a paradoxical existence of trying to live life adventurously while remaining staunchly risk-averse. He is torn by the dual desires of wanting to only be in Brooklyn writing about housing policy and smart home tech and aspiring to visit his friends scattered across the globe. Gabe believes that stable, safe communities are the cornerstone to a vibrant and healthy society, and it is this passion that brought him to contribute to Security Baron.

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