iPhone Security: How Safe Are iPhones?
Do iPhones and security go hand in hand? Some would say so. Apple is known for its security-first approach, with a suite of features centered around protecting your data and limiting what others can find out about you. That doesn’t mean these features are hacker-proof though.
Online threats are everywhere, and iPhones aren’t immune. Apple’s security has been in the spotlight numerous times for vulnerabilities and cyber attacks. Even with the latest and greatest security measures, we still need to think twice about what we share on our iPhones and who we’re sharing it with. Apple’s walled garden can only protect you so much.
So is iPhone security something we can only dream of? Or do iPhones have what it takes to keep you and your data secure? Let’s find out.
The Truth about iPhone Security
Apple might have one of the most secure operating systems, but it’s still experienced its fair share of vulnerabilities. From malware-ridden apps to OS security holes, iPhone users face a multitude of security risks. Let’s look at the most common risks in more detail.
Apple is strict about which apps it lets you download, but that doesn’t mean dodgy ones don’t find their way onto the App Store. Some untrustworthy apps come with hidden malware, which can compromise your device security. Just downloading the app can be enough to give a cybercriminal control of your device. They can snoop on anything, including your photos, online banking, passwords, and private messages. You might not even know they’re watching.
Other spammy apps could be spying on your details or forcing you to pay for services. In 2022, HT Tech reported over 84 scam apps were found on the App Store, stealing more than $100 million from users every year. Although these ‘fleecewear’ apps didn’t have malware inside, they were filled with extra fees and charges, usually relating to a free trial that had come to an end. Users were often charged multiple times or more than they thought at checkout, but were unable to cancel their subscriptions.
Leaving your apps outdated can expose you to vulnerabilities that can risk your information. Even pre-installed, Apple-based apps aren’t exempt from important security patches. Just before iOS 13.4.1’s release, a hacker managed to find a security flaw within Apple’s email software. This left users exposed to emails containing malicious code. Worryingly, you didn’t even need to open the email for the malicious code to start infecting your device. The attack forced iPhones to reboot, giving hackers full access to email accounts and all stored sensitive details.
OS Security Vulnerabilities
Just like your apps, failing to keep your device up-to-date can make you more vulnerable to threats. If you own an old iPhone, it can create even more risks. Older models typically don’t support the latest iOS, which means you won’t be able to install patches to fix any flaws. It wouldn’t take a hacker long to exploit them and gain access to your device.
Even with newer iPhones, hackers can sometimes manage to attack before Apple can patch the vulnerability. In recent years, malicious actors have been known to target iPhone users with Pegasus spyware, using unpatched bugs to install malware onto people’s devices. One exploit in September 2023 used weaknesses in the Wallet and ImageIO software to send images via iMessage hiding Pegasus malware.
Apple security measures mean iPhone users have less control over their devices. Many are resorting to jailbreaking their iPhones for more control – in other words, unlocking the operating system to gain full reign of the device. This lets you install any app, even if it’s not on the App Store, and configure your device however you like. While it gives you more freedom, it means your device isn’t protected by Apple’s security features or automatic updates. It also leaves you exposed to malware-ridden apps, which can threaten your device security.
New iPhone Features
Apple is constantly releasing new features with every upgraded model and new iOS. Many of these rely on you handing over more personal information or sharing data with other iPhone users. One example of this is the Name Drop feature released in iOS 17 which allowed iPhone users to share contact and personal information by holding their phones near one another.
You need permission to share and receive information between devices, ensuring you only connect to devices you trust. But these trusted devices could be compromised by cybercriminals and you may not know, leaving your information at risk of attack.
Risky Links and Downloads
Malicious links and downloads are a risk no matter what device you use. The iPhone is no exception. Cybercriminals often use social engineering tactics to lure you in and encourage you to hand over your details. This could be an unusual email attachment, a link via iMessage, or even an in-app link that you think is safe. Even if they’re not malicious, they can take you to a website hosting trackers and forms to grab your details and follow you around the web.
You might think you’re the only one who knows your six-digit lock screen passcode, but people could be watching you.
In December 2023, one cybercriminal studied people using their iPhones in an attempt to learn their passcodes. He’d then take their phones, change their passwords, and gain access to their online banking apps where he could transfer funds to himself. He’d also befriend victims to appear as someone they trust, then lure them into handing over their passcodes. Even if your iPhone can’t recognize Face ID, someone can easily unlock your phone if they know your passcode.
iPhone Built-In Security Features
Enough of the bad stuff — let’s focus on what Apple does well to keep you secure. Apple has tons of features to enhance your iPhone’s security and keep your information safe, with new ones in every release. Let’s go through the built-in security measures plus extra iPhone features you should be using to protect your security.
Apple is known for having one of the most secure operating systems. Unlike Android, Apple’s source code is closed, which means it’s not available for anyone to look at or change, including hackers. We’re not saying it’s perfect, but exploits are much less frequent and tougher for hackers to find.
Apple also implements tough security measures at both hardware and software levels, running intense security checks to ensure the safety of your device. One of the most important features is Secure Boot, which protects your iPhone against malware from the moment it’s turned on. This works by validating the operating system to ensure only Apple-approved software can run on your device when it starts up.
App Security Control
Apple’s so-called ‘walled garden’ is tough to get around. Apple checks every app in the App Store before accepting it, ensuring only verified apps are available to iPhone users. It verifies that apps haven’t been altered or tampered with, which could indicate security issues. This significantly reduces the risk of apps hiding malware that could compromise the security of your iPhone. Although it can be frustrating if you don’t see the app you want for available download, know that it’s only because Apple can’t verify its security. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you don’t already have a passcode enabled on your iPhone, make it your next priority. Your six-digit lock screen code is one of the most important features for protecting your device, and is possibly the most simple to implement. You can enable biometric login with Face ID and Touch ID to make it harder to unlock your phone. Apple also has a Find My iPhone feature which helps you locate your device if it’s lost or stolen. Once activated, it’ll stop anyone who has your device from accessing it.
One of Apple’s newest features includes Stolen Device Protection to block thieves from breaking through your iPhone. This feature forces you to use Face ID and Touch ID for other actions, rather than just to unlock your phone or make payments. It also creates a security delay alongside biometric checks for more sensitive actions, like changing your Apple ID or removing fingerprint scanning, to stop individuals from making changes to your device.
Account Logins and iCloud Protection
Apple implements Passkeys to make logins safer. Rather than logging in with a username and password that someone could potentially steal, you can log in to an account using Face ID or Touch ID. You can also save all of your logins to the iCloud Keychain which is encrypted and only you can access it with another password. Since every Passkey is uniquely generated, there’s much less chance a cybercriminal can breach your password.
To help keep your credentials safe, iPhones can suggest strong passwords with highly unique and hard-to-guess combinations that it’ll remember for you. For any weak passwords, your iPhone will nudge you to change them into a stronger combination. This makes it much harder for thieves to find your details or gain access to multiple accounts.
Your iPhone and the apps you use can share huge amounts of data, including your location, search history, and personal details. The more data you share, the more at risk you are of someone accessing your information and stealing it. Thankfully, there are ways to limit data sharing.
All apps ask your permission to share information when you first install them. You can amend these permissions at any time through Privacy & Security within Settings on your iPhone. You can turn Location Services off completely, which stops your iPhone from following your movements. You can also click on individual apps to deny or allow location tracking, or set rules such as only tracking your location while using the app.
You can review tracking permissions to prevent apps from logging your data for extra security. If they can’t track you, that means there’s less data to sell to third parties or for cybercriminals to steal. Open Tracking within Privacy & Security and switch the toggle for Allow Apps to Request to Track off. This blocks tracking requests and stops apps from tracking you on other sites. If you scroll down, you’ll see tracking permissions for individual apps too.
Lockdown Mode is one of Apple’s newer features, released with iOS 16 and 17. This advanced security function changes how your iPhone operates to reduce the risk of threats and stop people from accessing information on your device. It stops or restricts the use of certain apps and websites, as well as features like SharePlay, Shared Albums, FaceTime Live Photos, and FaceTime Continuity Handoff. Your iPhone has to be unlocked to connect to any wired accessories such as chargers or USB ports.
Lockdown Mode aims to reduce spyware exploits. If you think you’ve been attacked by spyware, you can enable Lockdown Mode to severely limit where it can spread across your device and restrict the information it has access to. Although it’s primarily for people who could be personally targeted because of what they do, such as journalists, it might be necessary if you think your device is infected.
Malicious Website Protection
Safari is one of the most secure browsers. It has a built-in Fraudulent Website Warning to protect you from sites hiding malware. If you attempt to visit a suspicious website, the popup alerts you before the webpage opens to shield you from on-page vulnerabilities. It’s not turned on by default, but you can easily switch it on in your settings.
Safari also protects you from cross-site tracking and hides your IP address from trackers to stop them from digitally profiling you. This restricts third-party trackers from tracing information back to your iPhone, such as browsing history and your location. This type of information can easily be sold to other third parties or even used to target you with attacks. The less information you give away, the less there is for a cybercriminal to exploit.
Third-Party Security Support
There might be fewer apps on the App Store than on the Google Play Store, but not all is lost. Apple supports plenty of third-party security apps, including iOS VPNs. You can download Apple-approved VPNs to encrypt your device activity and mask your online habits. A VPN also changes your IP address, so cybercriminals and other online spies can’t see your iPhone location.
If you’re looking for an iOS VPN, you can download Private Internet Access from the App Store. PIA VPN encrypts your iPhone traffic, stopping third parties from spying on your activity, including your browsing history, online searches, and personal details. It’s harder for cybercriminals to target you or steal your data because they can’t see what you’re sharing online. You also get unlimited simultaneous connections, so you can protect all of your Apple devices at once.
How to Increase Your iPhone Security
It’s important to practice strong cyber hygiene to maintain your online security. Alongside your iPhone’s built-in features, we recommend these key steps for protecting your information:
- Install updates: Keep your iPhone and apps up to date. New updates aren’t just for cool features – they often have important security patches to remove potential vulnerabilities from your device.
- Use strong passwords: Apple’s iCloud Keychain is a great solution for keeping your passwords secure, but a weak password is still at risk of being compromised. Consider taking your iPhone’s suggestions of strong passwords, or use combinations and words that you know aren’t easy to guess.
- Use antivirus software: Install antivirus software to detect potential vulnerabilities, including malware and suspicious sites.
- Use a VPN: Download a VPN to conceal your online activities from prying eyes and stop cybercriminals from stealing your information. A VPN can also protect you from online trackers, preventing them from logging your internet history and private data.
- Be mindful online: Think twice about what you share online. Although it might feel important to tell Facebook you’ve just checked into a fancy hotel, revealing your whereabouts is risky. Be mindful of sharing details like your location, address, email address, and contact details. Cybercriminals can use this information to target you with phishing emails or steal your information for fraudulent purposes.
iPhone Security: The Final Decision
So what’s the verdict? iPhones aren’t 100% safe, although they’re definitely one of the safer mobile options. Apple takes your security seriously and offers numerous features to keep you safe from malware, data leaks, and cybercriminal attacks. That said, it’s impossible to keep your information completely safe, even with all the latest security features. The best option? A VPN.
A VPN can’t promise 100% safety either, but it’s the best way to secure your iPhone. PIA VPN encrypts your iPhone traffic, which makes it inaccessible to any outsiders, including cybercriminals. They can’t see what you’re doing online – and with nothing to see, they have nothing to steal. Use a VPN alongside your iPhone’s built-in features, including tracking blocking, limited location sharing, and safe browsing to keep yourself secure.
Apple has a strong reputation for its security. It has various built-in features to increase your online security, including malware protection, Passkeys, and customizable information-sharing choices for apps. Apple is also well known for its stringent controls on apps, only allowing pre-approved developers to upload apps onto the store. iPhones are still hackable, though. Risky links, OS security vulnerabilities, and trends like jailbreaking mean cybercriminals can still find loopholes to access your device.
No. No device is ever 100% hacker-proof, even with Apple’s advanced security controls. Hackers and cybercriminals have exploited iPhones in the past, whether it’s by luring someone in with a phishing link to steal information, or using clever tactics to place malware-ridden apps on the App Store.
The risks of owning an iPhone are the same as owning any smartphone. Cybercriminals can target you with spyware, malware, and phishing links. Hackers can also find vulnerabilities in the iPhone’s OS system or apps to exploit and access your device. That’s why it’s important to install software updates as they’re released. These updates often include security measures to patch vulnerabilities and stop unauthorized individuals from getting into your iPhone.
Most users choose iPhone over Android because of its advanced security features and closed source code. Unlike Android, no one can see or amend Apple’s source code. This also means that hackers are less likely to find vulnerabilities to exploit, but it’s not impossible. Threat actors can also target you in other ways, such as with phishing links or dodgy apps.