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Are Apple's iPhones as Secure as You Think?

By Ernest Hamilton , Sep 05, 2019 04:26 PM EDT
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iPhones are downright amazing. They are so intuitive and user-friendly, and they have tons of neat features that make your life so much simpler. Not to mention all the hours of entertainment you can get with an iPhone.

It's just a shame that your privacy is at risk when you use one.

"Wait - Aren't iPhones Secure?"

Well, Apple devices definitely have nice security features. However, they've actually got some flaws that can endanger your privacy.

For starters, the AirDrop and password sharing features iPhones have can actually broadcast partial hashes if you have Bluetooth turned on. What that basically means is that iPhones can leak your phone number

Also, iOS apps actually share a lot of sensitive info with third-party devs. For example, some developers can get access to facial data. What's more, iPhones share your data with marketing companies round-the-clock through data trackers - even when the screen is off.

And if that wasn't enough, hundreds of applications once leaked information like GPS location data, health info, and plaintext passwords due to misconfigured backends.

And lastly, while Apple might claim to take your privacy seriously, the fact that they are part of the PRISM surveillance program doesn't really make that believable. After all, that pretty much means Apple is sharing sensitive user data (like images, audio and video files, emails, connection logs, and live chat logs) with the NSA and the FBI.

How to Protect Your Privacy on iPhone

All those things about iPhone security and privacy probably got you worried. 

Well, the good news is that there are some things you can do to make your iPhone more secure:

Create a Strong Passcode

Having a short Passcode is convenient, but very risky. While someone couldn't brute-force it too easily, there is a hacking tool called GreyKey which can allegedly crack iPhone Passcodes.

And if that wasn't enough, cybercriminals actually managed to hack the company behind the GreyKey tool. So, it's safe to say that there are now hackers who have access to Passcode-cracking software.

The best way to combat that is to make your Passcode long - at least 10 characters, since it'd take GreyKey around a decade to crack such a Passcode.

Ideally, you should also turn on the Erase Data feature. If you do that, the device will automatically erase all user data after 10 wrong Passcode attempts. To do that, just head over to Settings>Touch ID & Passcode, and scroll to the bottom. Next, just toggle Erase Data.

Enable Touch ID/Face ID

If you don't think a Passcode can secure your iPhone, you should turn on Touch ID or Face ID. With those features, you'll only be able to unlock your device with a fingerprint or face scan.

This way, even if you do use a Passcode (which can actually be bypassed), and your iPhone ever ends up in the wrong hands, you'll have an extra layer of defense.

Limit or Turn Off Location Services

I already mentioned how some iOS apps leak your GPS location data, so one good way to combat that is to turn off Location Services on your iPhone - at least when you're not really using them.

To do that, just head to Settings>Privacy>Location Services, and switch them to Off.

This way, you won't need to worry about Apple and advertisers creepily keeping an eye on your movements.

Tweak Safari's Privacy Settings

As if it weren't enough that Safari had its own fair share of privacy issues, you also need to worry about websites constantly keeping track of everything you do online.

The good news is that Apple offers you a decent amount of control over your privacy in this case. You just need to properly configure Safari' Privacy Settings. Here's what I recommend doing:

  • Use Safari's private browsing mode to limit what websites can track. Of course, that doesn't mean your traffic becomes anonymous, but it's still pretty useful.

  • Set up Safari to block pop-ups, and use content blockers. That way, you'll minimize the risk of dealing with malware or phishing links.

  • Lower the amount of access Safari has to your system files and info. For instance, don't give Safari access to your location and Photo Library.

  • Disable Safari Suggestions and Frequently Visited Sites. Doing that will limit how much the web browser tracks your online browsing - to a certain extent at least.

  • Limit tracking cookies. Sure, that means you'll have to manually type in your login credentials, but you'll get to enjoy more privacy.

Lastly, consider using iOS apps for websites instead of web apps. That way, you can limit Safari permissions better.

Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

A VPN is an online service that hides your IP address and encrypts your Internet traffic. It's a great tool you should have on your iPhone if you want to protect your privacy. 

How does an iPhone VPN help you exactly? Well:

  • Since it hides your IP address, nobody will be able to track your geo-location when you're on the web. So you won't have to worry about any iOS apps leaking it anymore, or Apple keeping tabs on where you are.

  • By encrypting your traffic, the VPN makes sure you're not exposed to online surveillance. You likely use public WiFi on your iPhone - it's convenient, after all. The problem is that public networks don't normally use encryption, so anyone can monitor your traffic. But with a VPN, if a hacker ever tries to snoop on your online activities, they'll see nothing but gibberish.

  • Also since the VPN encrypts your traffic, your ISP won't be able to sell your browsing data to advertisers anymore.

If you want to learn about the top VPNs for your iPhone, feel free to check out the link I left there. It's a comprehensive guide that should make it very easy for you to find the right VPN service. 

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