How to keep your iPhone safe and secure

If you have an iPhone, you may be thinking that you don't have to worry about taking measures to protect your privacy or secure your device, since iPhones are secure enough already out of the box. Sure, iPhones are typically less susceptible to various exploits, and more secure in general than other smartphones on the market, but that doesn't mean that you can throw caution to the wind and completely neglect to secure your iPhone.

Think about all the sensitive information that you have stored on your iPhone; things like your photos, videos, text messages, emails, saved passwords, health information, contact lists, location history, browsing history, and much more are all packed into this powerful little pocket-sized device. If that device is compromised or somehow ends up in the wrong hands, your personal privacy will be seriously jeopardized since all of that sensitive information could be accessed by an unauthorized party who may not have your best interests in mind.

In this guide, we let you know how to secure your iPhone and give you all the information you need to make sure your iPhone and all the data stored on it are adequately safeguarded from various threats.

A dozen iOS security tips

We have listed 12 tips to help you keep your iPhone secure and private below.

  1. Don't jailbreak your iPhone

    While we believe that you should be able to do whatever it is that you want with your own iPhone, we would not recommend jailbreaking it if you're at all concerned about security because doing so can open up your iPhone to malware threats from malicious apps.

    Some people choose to jailbreak their iPhones to unlock their full potential and to access unauthorized third-party app stores to download apps that are unavailable on Apple's official App Store. But the problem is that apps available on unlicensed third-party app stores are not vetted by Apple's robust security standards and are liable to be malicious in nature. This means that by jailbreaking your iPhone and downloading apps from third-party app stores you're taking a big risk by significantly increasing the likelihood of infecting your iPhone with malware that can give an attacker the opportunity to compromise your phone's operating system and steal all of your data.

  2. Read app reviews and investigate any app you're considering downloading

    Though Apple employs a rigorous vetting process for approving apps from third-party developers before they can become available for download on the official App Store, sometimes rogue apps may still slip through the cracks. Because of this, it is always a good idea to read the reviews and investigate any app you're considering downloading before you download it. If an app has an overwhelming ratio of negative reviews compared to positive reviews, if the app's download numbers are suspiciously slow, or if the app's description is riddled with misspellings or other grammatical mistakes, then you should be wary of downloading the app.

    If you check the app's developer and do a little online investigation into who is behind the app you are considering downloading, you can deduce a lot about whether the developer is trustworthy, which will help you make a more informed decision about actually downloading the app. It's also wise to check the developer's privacy policy so that you know exactly how the app and its developer processes your personal data.

  3. Keep iOS up to date

    Apple regularly issues updates for its iOS operating system to patch bugs and vulnerabilities that can put users' iPhones at risk. This is why it is essential to download and install these updates when they become available. When you update your iPhone to the latest version of iOS, you can be sure that your iPhone is protected from any threats posed by any of the vulnerabilities or bugs found in previous versions of the operating system.

    The importance of keeping iOS updated was highlighted recently when independent researchers found three vulnerabilities that Apple conceded may have been "actively exploited" by hackers. Apple addressed the issue and released an iOS update that patched the vulnerabilities to protect users' devices from the exploits, but in order to protect their iPhones, it's up to users themselves to run the update.

    If you want to check to see if an iOS update is available for your iPhone, simply go to

    "Settings" → "General" → "Software Update"

    If an update is available, you will be given an option to download and install the update. If your iOS is up to date, then you will see "Your software is up to date" after you tap on "Software Update".

    We would recommend downloading and installing the iOS update any time you see an update is available, but if you're iPhone is up-to-date then no action is necessary until the next iOS update becomes available.

    You can also set your iPhone to download and install iOS updates automatically as they become available by tapping on "Automatic Updates" in the "Software Update" menu and flipping "Download iOS Updates" and "Install iOS Updates" to the "On" position.

  4. Disable Siri on the lock screen

    Having the Siri digital assistant at your fingertips at all times can indeed be extremely convenient. But be aware that it can also be a convenient way for an unauthorized individual to access your personal data if you have Siri enabled on your lock screen.

    Though Siri will ask for your passcode or other verification before accessing sensitive areas of your phone like your photos, contacts, and certain apps, a skilled and determined malicious actor could potentially bypass such verification methods and use Siri to access private data on your iPhone.

    To disable Siri on your iPhone's lock screen, go to:

    "Settings" → "Touch ID & Passcode" (or "Face ID & Passcode" for newer models), enter your passcode, and flip "Siri" to the "Off" position under "Allow Access When Locked".

    And while you're there, you can also disable other actions available on your lock screen like access to your Apple Wallet, the ability to reply to text messages, return missed calls, etc. Just enable or disable the settings in this menu to match what you're comfortable with.

  5. Enable the find my iPhone feature

    When you activate the "Find My" feature, you'll be able to locate your iPhone using another Apple device should your iPhone ever get lost or stolen. What's more, you'll be able to wipe all your data off your iPhone remotely to ensure no unauthorized individual will be able to access any of the personal information you have stored on your device. 

    To activate the "Find My" feature, open your Settings menu and tap on your name at the top of the screen. Then tap on "Find My" and enable "Find My iPhone". 

    If you're facing a situation that merits remotely wiping your lost or stolen iPhone, you'll need to sign in to your iCloud account on a separate Apple device using your Apple ID and password. Once you've signed in, click on the missing iPhone on the screen and then click on the "Erase iPhone" trash can icon. If your iPhone is online, then it will be wiped once you complete the process. If, however, your iPhone is offline, it will automatically erase itself once it is online again.

  6. Create a custom alphanumeric passcode

    Remember back in the day when you would secure your iPhone with a measly 4-digit passcode? Turns out you were doing little to secure your iPhone. A skilled hacker would have no issues cracking a 4-digit passcode in less than ten minutes. But if you think you're all good with your 6-digit passcode, you'd be wrong because that same hacker could easily break your 6-digit passcode in under a day.

    Obviously, the longer your passcode, the longer it will take to crack. And if you add letters to the mix, it can make it exponentially much more difficult and much longer for a hacker to break into your iPhone and steal your data. An alphanumeric passcode could take hundreds of thousands of years to break, so it's worth it to take the time to create a strong alphanumeric passcode for your iPhone to ensure that it is virtually impossible for anyone to crack.

    To set an alphanumeric passcode for your iPhone, go to:

    "Settings""Touch ID & Passcode"

    Then, once you've entered your current passcode, tap on "Change Passcode". Enter your current passcode again. Then, instead of entering a new 6-digit passcode, tap on:

    "Passcode Options" → "Custom Alphanumeric Code" to set a new alphanumeric passcode for your iPhone.

    Sure, it may be a tad more time-consuming to use an alphanumeric passcode to unlock your iPhone, but the added security is definitely worth it.

  7. Enable the ‘Erase Data' feature for 10 consecutive unsuccessful passcode attempts

    If you want to take your iPhone security to the next level, then you can set your iPhone to erase all data after 10 consecutive unsuccessful passcode attempts. If you're prone to forgetting your passcodes, or if you have small children who tend to play around with your iPhone, then you may want to think twice about enabling this setting, however, because once the data is erased it's gone for good. Unless of course you regularly back up the data on your iPhone (which you should be doing anyway). 

    To set your iPhone to erase your data after 10 consecutive unsuccessful passcode attempts, go to:

    "Settings"" → ""Touch ID & Passcode"

    Then once you've entered your passcode, scroll to the bottom and flip the "Erase Data" toggle button to the "On" position, then confirm by tapping "Enable".

  8. Don't fall for phishing scams

    Phishing scams remain a common way for cybercriminals to trick unsuspecting victims into giving up their personal data, and they can pose a danger to the security of your iPhone as well.

    Typically, phishing scams are launched via email and are designed to trick the recipient into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment in the email message that leads to a phishing site or injects malware directly onto the victim's device. A phishing email will often appear to be legitimate and convincing at first glance, but when you take a closer look you're likely to notice various inconsistencies, spelling/grammatical mistakes, and a message that is poorly written. 

    It's never a good idea to click on any links or download any attachments from unsolicited emails, especially if you notice anything about the email that just doesn't look quite right. Doing so could expose your iPhone to malware and put your personal data at serious risk. 

  9. Limit app permissions to only what is necessary

    Your flashlight app doesn't need access to your camera, microphone, contacts list, or your location. You may be surprised at the number of access permissions certain apps may request, and you would be right in questioning why they would need access to those areas of your iPhone.

    Truth is, they don't need that access, they just want it so they can collect as much data from you as possible to sell to advertisers. And when you give apps permission to access areas of your phone that they don't need access to, you're risking giving the app access to your sensitive private data. This is why it is essential to limit app permissions to only what is absolutely necessary for the functioning of the app in question.

    To check the app permissions you have granted to any particular app, simply head over to "Settings" and scroll down to the app you want to check and tap on it. Then, you will be able to toggle off any permission you do not want to give to the app. 

  10. Be wary of charging your iPhone in public USB ports to mitigate ‘Juice Jacking' risks

    These days, you're increasingly likely to see USB phone charging ports in public spaces like airports and hotels. Though they can be incredibly convenient, they can also pose a risk.

    A relatively new threat known as "juice jacking" (where a hacker loads malware into a USB charging port to inject malware onto any device plugged into the port) has been gaining steam.

    It's important to be careful and think twice before plugging your iPhone into a public USB port because if you plug your iPhone into a "juice jacked" port, you could be exposing your iPhone to malware and you run the risk of supplying your sensitive personal data directly to a criminal.

    The problem is that it is virtually impossible to tell whether a USB port is compromised or not – but there are still ways to protect your iPhone from the risks.

    Of course, you can always just avoid using public USB charging ports altogether and instead bring your own wall charger with you when you're out and about. Or, you can attach a USB data blocker (or USB condom) to your USB charging cable before plugging it into a port in a public area.

    A USB data blocker effectively blocks any data transfer and prevents any kind of data exchange between your iPhone and any other device. This means that it will prevent any malware-infected USB port from transferring malware onto your iPhone or from harvesting data from your iPhone. 

  11. Disable the "Load Remote Images" setting in your email

    This one is a bit more obscure, but just as important as the others. The "Load Remote Images" setting is enabled by default on your iPhone and it allows your iPhone's Mail app to load images automatically in your email messages.

    This may seem harmless, but it allows the sender to track when you download the image (i.e. when you opened the email) and gather certain personal information, sometimes even your location. Cybercriminals can hide images in an email – even a single pixel – to capture information about you and your iPhone when you open an email and allow for remote images to be loaded.

    To disable this setting, simply go to:

    "Settings""Mail" → scroll down to the "Messages" → flip the "Load Remote Images""Off"" position.

    Not only will disabling this setting protect your privacy and the security of your iPhone, doing so will also allow emails to load faster, preserve your battery life, and consume less data.

  12. Use a VPN

    When you use a VPN for your iPhone, you'll be protecting your privacy by encrypting all of your internet traffic through a secure VPN "tunnel", and you'll also be protecting the security of your iPhone by keeping your data hidden from hackers or data thieves who may be attempting to snoop on your connection.

    Protecting your iPhone by using a VPN is absolutely essential when out in public and connected to a public WiFi hotspot. This is because public WiFi hotspots are notoriously unsecure and are often targeted by hackers looking to spy on the traffic running through them and steal sensitive personal data. But if you're using a VPN to encrypt your data when using your iPhone on a public WiFi hotspot, then there's no way for hackers to see what you're up to and, therefore, no way for them to intercept your data.

Conclusion

It's true that Apple puts a great deal of work into creating devices that are secure by design and place a heavy emphasis on user privacy. But as evidenced in this guide, there are still a number of things you can do to boost the security of your iPhone.

Indeed, your iPhone may be relatively secure right out of the box, but in order to make it as secure as possible, you'll need to understand the various risks that cybercriminals can pose to iPhone users and what you can do to mitigate those risks to prevent your sensitive personal data from falling into the wrong hands.

So now that you know how to secure your iPhone and protect your digital privacy when using it, go ahead and get started with the practical and simple-to-apply tips outlined above and take your iPhone security to the next level.

 

Written by: Attila Tomaschek

Attila is a Hungarian-American currently living in Budapest. Being in the VPN game for over 5 years, along with his acute understanding of the digital privacy space enables him to share his expertise with ProPrivacy readers. Attila has been featured as a privacy expert in press outlets such as Security Week, Silicon Angle, Fox News, Reader’s Digest, The Washington Examiner, Techopedia, Disruptor Daily, DZone, and more. He has also contributed bylines for several online publications like SC Magazine UK, Legal Reader, ITProPortal, BetaNews, and Verdict.

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