After witnessing numerous iPhone hacking instances, chances are that you worry about how is it possible for hackers to hack your iPhone?
Today, the iPhone is as much a great phone as it is a status symbol. While it undoubtedly has all the finest features, it turns out that even they are susceptible to hacking.
Team Project Zero from Google disclosed how cybercriminals used a number of websites to attack iPhones over the years. In fact, over 1 billion Apple users may have already been attacked.
That’s why it’s essential to determine how a hacker can hack your iPhone, identify security loopholes, and stay ahead of everything.
How Secure is The iPhone?
While iPhones are probably one of the most secure smartphones in the market right now, they still aren’t exempt from data breach and other measures.
And smartphone hacking isn’t as rare as you’d like to believe.
Well, to cut a long story short, Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the US, and astonishingly someone was able to hack even his iPhone X. Turns out, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia infected Bezos’ phone infected with spyware by sending a WhatsApp text. Surprisingly, no one could detect it for months – and it had full access to all of his photos, messages, and apps. The phone ultimately became the epicenter of a massive exfiltration of data and remained so before it got identified and put to sleep.
It’s safe to say that despite the best security features provided by iPhones, there still are loopholes.
The iPhone comes laced with some of the finest security detailing available in the market. Indeed, for millions out there, the iPhone is just a synonym for terms like ‘most secure’, ‘powerful’, ‘reliable’, & ‘trustworthy.’
As of January 2020, iOS has a market share of around 25%. When looked at in the global context, it means millions of smartphones. Which translates into a million potential targets for cyber-criminals to exploit.
Therefore, security instances few and far in between aren’t very rare.
After the launch of the iPhone 11, various concerned professionals raised security concerns. However, Apple took care of the matter soon enough. In 2019, there were numerous reports of various cyber-attacks on iPhones. There were confirmed iPhone bricking attacks. A surveillance-ware package called eSurv was also discovered, which was being delivered to iPhones through innocuous-looking phishing sites.
Apple is yet to address numerous vulnerabilities, as you can see. The iPhone, therefore, is getting more and more secure with every version of the iOS released, keeping in line with more advanced needs.
The iOS 13 released in late 2019 comes with exciting new security detailing. Here are some of them:
- Control your location settings and decide when to turn the location feature on or off. Version 12 also tells you which apps are tracking location, but 13 is a more detailed account so that you can decide for yourself
- Block Bluetooth tracking access
- Apple disabled Wi-Fi tracking
- You can now share photos without revealing your location as well
- Block voice-over IP apps
Although the security patching from Apple continues to be the best in the business, according to recent reports, iPhones are 167 times more likely to be hacked than other smartphones.
And it’s not just bugged, it includes online crimes too.
In fact, sometimes, Apple’s stance of ‘What happens on the iPhone, stays on the iPhone’ may cause the exact problem that they are trying to solve: that of susceptibility to cyber-crime. They don’t let out enough to let people help them. They are believers of the self-help theory and want to solve everything themselves.
Apple doesn’t believe in publicizing its code and security features too much either, so all we know is that they’ve got a pretty good protection against hacking, but not the details.
Despite the incidences of hacking and its vulnerabilities, Apple has built a global reputation of being a leader in security. Apple has successfully and seamlessly integrated security into their marketing and advertising activities, which have helped elevate it in the eyes of the global rich.
Along with speed, agility and appearance, iPhones have slowly and steadily developed a competitive advantage over other service providers in terms of their security.
In fact, Apple has time and again highlighted its stance on ensuring data security, and have also not shied away from promoting itself to be better than Android.
An example on point would be this video, which has tried to demonstrate the utility of an iPhone as compared to an Android.
This commercial drives home the point that trying to hack into an iPhone is bound or be futile.
Apple continues to be a leader in the smartphone sector, and is the device of choice for the ultra-rich and the VIPs for whom data security is of paramount importance. That’s why people don’t mind paying even more than $1500 for the iPhones that guarantee security.
How Can Hackers Hack Your iPhone?
The hackers of today are some of the most intelligent, creative and cunning criminals the world has ever seen. There are plenty of areas for them to exploit and hack into an iPhone Let’s look at some of them:
Using this software is one of the most efficient ways to hack an iPhone.
This is a holistic tool used to hack phone cameras, Facebook & Instagram passwords, messages, videos and lots more. Some of the special features it offers are tracking an iPhone without the knowledge of the owner, reading the target’s Facebook messages and more. The best (and scary) part is that the experienced hacker can accomplish all of this from their PC.
2. Use SIRI
Yes, the intelligent virtual assistant can be turned against her own master. The process is very simple.
You just have to follow these steps:
- Press the ‘home’ button
- Ask Siri the time and wait
- Press the clock icon to open the timer
- Click on ‘when the timer ends’ on the timer option
- Scroll upwards & select ‘Buy more cones’
- Apple store opens
- Click on ‘Home’ & access the main screen
- You now have access to the iPhone (previously locked)
- Access it freely
It’s an extremely simple hack that doesn’t even need special expertise. With iPhones using iOS 12 and/ or touchpads, you can use Siri to bypass all these and get inside someone’s phone without even touching it.
In fact, in phones like these, you can access the main screen as well as shut off Siri at the same time – and you’re in!
This is an app made for the purpose of hacking iPhones. It has an in-built memory system that allows it to remember the keystrokes used by the user of the phone. Once you start using it, you will have access to all the information about the phone usage and internet habits of the user. You can make use of this highly intimate information to hack an iPhone. In these cases usually, installing the app is central to activities. It is one of the most powerful spying apps in the market right now, and one you should always be wary about.
Some of the ways it can compromise privacy and data secrecy are:
- Remote monitoring. Now, you don’t need to have the device in your possession
- Record all sounds and conversations held in the vicinity of the phone very discreetly
- Monitor social media activities
For the seasoned hacker, the Pegasus software may be the only bit of software they need to effectively attack an iPhone. The tool is one of the most lethal out there, and you should know about it in-depth.
Billed as a state-of-the-art surveillance tool, the spyware gets installed in the background of the phone, with the user completely oblivious to proceedings. Most recently, it came into the news as part of a government conspiracy to monitor lawyers and activists. This software excels at collecting data of the device, monitoring the activities and relaying all the information conspicuously to a third party. It is installed by way of phishing messages whereby it tricks users to click on a particular message.
Some of its features border on camouflage, like avoiding detection eve when roaming, unless you use Wi-Fi, and not using more than 5% of available space in a device at any point in time. Unfortunately, as of now, the best defense against it is to avoid clicking on unknown links.
Other Frequent Hacks Used by Cyber Criminals
These are some of the most frequent hacks used by cyber criminals. Most of these have been taken care of by the security patches that regularly keep being updated. There are plenty more out there, but with the right attitude and the right tools, you’ll be safe.
However, there are graver concerns and instances when governments themselves have authorized and carried out surveillance, discreetly in most cases.
Famous whistleblower and ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden himself voiced concerns about the security of iPhones and has publicly confirmed that he’s unlikely to ever use an iPhone.
To quote Snowden, “The Government Can Hack Your iPhone Like A Criminal To Track You.”
In fact, Snowden was responsible for pointing out some of the glaring omissions of the platform, and has even pointed out the British GCHQ’s attempts to hack into, and manipulate iPhones.
The US agency NSA’s attempts at mass surveillance were even tried on the famously malware-resistant iPhones, and further news came into light about attempts to target computers through packet injection – capable of hijacking Wi-Fi up to 8 miles away.
Snowden’s revelations have also demonstrated that Apple takes customer security very seriously. It was revealed that hackers could access iPhones based on Unique Device Identifiers, and the method was exploited to access thousands of iPhones by the GCHQ before 2010. Apple realized the security concerns and the risks posed and phased out UDID in favor of more security-friendly methods.
To describe the gravity of the situation, Snowden quotes,
‘No system of mass surveillance has existed in any society, that we know of to this point, that has not been abused,’ implying governments and corporations won’t and don’t hesitate to access privy information.
‘I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under,’ the statement from Edward Snowden indeed paints a grim picture of where the world’s headed if laws are not brought in to protect data privacy.
Mass Surveillance – Good or Bad?
Mass surveillance has its share of promoters and opponents.
Moreover, when you think of mass surveillance, you are likely to be grappled by some common questions.
Should the government monitor you 24/7?
Should the government be given the right to snoop into your private space?
Will such surveillance be ethical? Can it be misused?
And most importantly, where do you draw the line?
These are some of the concerns that arise when a mass surveillance system is put in place. Some people say that if you’ve nothing to hide, what’s the concern about mass surveillance? Maybe it’s all for the best?
One of its most vocal opponents, Edward Snowden mentioned that ‘Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide, is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say’.
Exposing the shadowy surveillance activities of the NSA and CIA at the behest of the US government has got Snowden his US citizenship cancelled, and made him a refugee in Russia.
For all we know, we may soon be heading towards the dystopian feature defined by mass surveillance as depicted in George Orwell’s seminal work, 1984.
The UK and China run the widest surveillance programs, with more than 5 million and 200 million CCTV cameras on their roads. While it certainly has its uses in crime prevention, it can curtail privacy significantly.
China’s mass surveillance program incorporates both the AI and facial recognition technology to keep track of every single move of its citizens.
It’s also worthy to know that the prospect of surveillance of any sort doesn’t go well with American. In fact, in the United States, less than a quarter of U.S. citizens approve of their government spying on them.
Here’s an infographic depicting the global attitudes to Mass Surveillance:
But Mass Surveillance has its fair share of supporters as well.
With the rise in political unrest, terrorism, and technology, data security concerns have never been more crucial than it is today. Many people believe that handing the powerful tools of surveillance to the people who matter could prevent instances of cyber-crime, cyber-terrorism and data theft, and usher in an era of peace. Instances of intentional abuse that currently go largely undetected would stop and there are general expectations of reduced police spending.
However, looking at it very objectively and dispassionately, there are two sides to this coin as well.
Here are some of the positives as well as the negatives of Mass Surveillance:
|Act as a potential deterrent to cyber-criminals and lower crime rates||Can be extensively misused by governments and corporations|
|Real-time focus on events allow extremely fast response in emergencies||No accountability whatsoever. Knowledge can be denied|
|Prevent incidences of hacking and other criminal activities from happening||Infringement upon private space since smartphones are extremely personal devices|
|Can ideally keep people safe and secure||High susceptibility to insider abuse of data, power, authority and knowledge|
|Can prevent exorbitant spending on policing||Specific sections of the society can be targeted, like in case of the Nazi Holocaust|
|Can be used to unravel patterns in crime and prevent future occurrences||Can be used to settle personal vendetta by people with authority|
You might also want to read: Best Secure Messaging Apps
Examples of iPhone Hacks
Instances of iPhone hacks are littered all across the internet.
One of the flaws that were revealed by Google said that iPhones had a vulnerability that allowed it to be exploited without being physically handled.
“This makes the vulnerability different from a lot of other mobile issues,” opined the security researcher Sean Wright. “Typically, they require some user interaction, such as installing a malicious application. It appears that this vulnerability only requires the attacker to know the user’s phone number to be able to exploit it.”
The gap has since then been plugged by Project Zero.
The US government hasn’t been a stranger when it came to hacking iPhones for their benefits. The FBI managed to hack into the device used by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudi Giuliani, albeit it took 2 months.
Back in 2014, several celebrities like Emma Watson, Rihanna and Jennifer Lawrence had their phones hacked for good measure and intimate photographs released in a scandal called ‘The fappening’. The iCloud storage, in-built in the iOS was breached via brute-force and phishing and the photographs were accessed, which led to enormous embarrassment.
She responded sarcastically on Twitter with a sardonic ‘Thank you iCloud.’
Looking at the deadly Pegasus, the spyware has always been in the headlines due to its attack on iPhone users. As recently as 2016, it tried to hack into the iPhone of the UAE human rights activist by sending a message that promised to reveal the plight of tortured prisoners in the country if he clicked on the provided link.
Sense prevailed before disaster struck, but upon inspection, it was revealed that the spyware had the potential to effectively hack into iOS platforms and remain undetected, a case demonstrated in the much-hyped incidence of Jeff Bezos and Mohammad Bin Salman.
It also targeted an Indian rights activist and lawyer Nihal Singh Rathod, although disaster was averted.
These incidences are not disparate and one-off. There are thousands more examples that can be found in everyday life among common men and women.
How To Secure Your iPhone?
Despite the ways in which your phone can be hacked, taking the right precautions at the right time can significantly allay the probability. Here are some of the ways how:
1. Software Updates
The reason software updates exist is to close security gaps that have been discovered in your software. By updating software regularly, you are protecting your phone and data from malicious cyber-attacks. Not updating your phone will only keep the loopholes unchecked, and may lead to hacking and data compromise. To check whether you’re on the latest version or not, go to Settings > General > Software update
2. Activate ‘Find My iPhone’
People make mistakes, and you can lose your iPhone. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose valuable data as well. By activating the ‘Find my iPhone’ settings, you can remotely locate your lost phone, and wipe the phone clean. Which means even if the phone’s fallen into wrong hands, the data hasn’t.
3. Long Password
GrayKey tech was a hacking tool that was specifically targeting iPhones by cracking passwords. But iOS version 12 and above have all been made immune to it. However, there could be more such tools out there.
That’s why it’s a great idea to go for a long password. A 4-digit code could be hacked within hours and a six-digit code within days. The complexity keeps increasing as you increase the numbers, due to the permutation and combination associated. An 8-digit pin could take months and 10-digit pin decades to be cracked open. Mix it up with numbers, letters and symbols – it becomes incredibly hard to hack.
This is quite an intense way of ensuring data security. In your iPhone, you can activate an option that automatically deletes the entire phone memory upon insertion of the incorrect PIN 10 times. While the scenario can be quite common during parties under the influence, and can seem like a steep measure, if you’re someone who simply cannot take the risk of data compromise, this is for you.
5. Avoid Opening Suspicious Links
Got an unknown link sent to you? It may be a phishing attack, or a malware or spyware. The links can be sent via text messages, WhatsApp, emails or messenger. Most of the times, the messages look extremely authentic, and is very difficult to identify at a glance. But the wrong click could bode ill for you, so it’s best to avoid clicking on such links, unless you’re absolutely sure about the sender or the platform.
6. Two-Factor Authentication (2-FA)
Simple, but extremely effective. In this method, you will need to permit the act of logging into your phone from another device. Even if you’ve misplaced your iPhone, and the hacker has somehow cracked the password, they still won’t be able to access your data without the simultaneous authentication from you via another linked device. The 2-factor authentication system is something you can always rely on.
7. Revoke App Permissions
With an app for everything today, it’s hard to keep track of which is which. It’s best if you don’t provide access to all the apps all the time. You should get to pick and choose the apps who have access to your data, and it’s been updated in version 13 of iOS. Without your express assent, the handset can’t collect information about you, rendering a blow to hackers.
iPhone vs Android: Which System is More Secure?
Kim Kardashian. Miley Cyrus. Samuel L. Jackson. Victoria Beckham. Ariana Grande. The list is endless. What’s common? All of them use iPhones and swear by it. Why?
Well, because it’s ‘Designed in California’, trendy, hip, feature-rich, cool – and highly secure. When it comes to security detailing, few platforms can match the power and capabilities of the iOS.
There are extremely small things ingrained in the iOS that enhance its security prowess.
For instance, iPhones don’t allow you to install anything from suspicious sources. It also protects you Like you can’t download anything from websites. Like not sharing your data with any third-party app at all.
This isn’t always the case in Android and other platforms, which sometimes make a huge difference.
The context is summed up quite succinctly in the words of Sundar Pichai himself,
We cannot guarantee that Android is designed to be safe, the format was designed to give more freedom. People must take into account the fact that it is the most popular operating system in the world. If I had a company dedicated to malware, I would also be addressing my attacks on Android.’
– Sundar Pichai on Android
With the kind of volume Android operates with as a result of its steep market share, unwarranted attention from cyber-criminals is part of the job description.
But there are other reasons too that make iPhone the undisputed leader when it comes to security:
1. Hackers Are Likely to Target Android More Than iOS
Cyber criminals write codes and develop hacking methods to attack platforms that have the biggest probability of a weakness. Which has got a lot to do with the market share of the platform.
Android is the market leader in the smartphone platforms category with a 75% market share, while iOS has less than 25%. That’s why hackers target Android much more than iOS, simply because the base user population, and subsequently, the probability of a successful hack is exponentially higher. With a market size that big, it’s virtually impossible to close all the loopholes, and it isn’t any wonder the iOS is more secure than Androids.
99% of all mobile malware is designed targeted at Android software. In fact, nearly 20 million malware codes have been written for Androids alone. iOS accounts for less than 1% of all malware and virus attacks. There is malware that is specific to iOS. An example is the XcodeGhost, a modified version of one of Apple’s development environment. According to reports, it had infected well over 4000 apps on the Apple store, most prominently WeChat. However, the overwhelming focus of malware is Android.
3. Openness vs Sandboxing
Part of the problem of being susceptible to attacks lies in how Android and iOS operate. Apps on the iOS platform follow a technique called ‘sandboxing’. It essentially means that every app has its own designated space, and interaction on the outside with other apps or the platform at large isn’t really possible. The benefit is that even if one or more apps on the iOS are affected, it doesn’t easily spread to other apps by virtue of the sandbox, and the damage can still be contained.
Android on the other hand is one for openness, flexibility and integration. All apps are connected to one another. While it makes the task of developers and users much easier, it also renders them more prone to malicious attacks.
4. Sneak Attacks
In September 2019 alone, 172 malicious apps were detected on the Google play store, the majority of which were carriers of adware. What’s more alarming is that the apps were installed a whopping 335 million times by users. A few days before that another malicious app called Joker came into the news because of its presence on the Play-store. It stole personal information after being downloaded. And these aren’t isolated events. The problem with Google Play-store is that malicious apps can find their way onto it very easily. You can end up installing it yourself without suspecting anything. These are sneak attacks.
This is where iOS strongly differs. With data security at the forefront of their service, any app on the Apple store must make it there only by satisfying a set of pre-specified criteria. Only after passing a strict evaluation can an app hope to get there. That’s why, any malicious app is weeded out even before it gets there, and the probability of sneak attacks is basically nullified.
5. Facial Recognition
A big differentiator between the security offerings of the two platforms. Apple developed the Face ID after spending considerable time, effort, and money. It recognizes faces by re-building a 3D structure via infrared light and image capture. It has been tested and proved to recognize people despite injuries, beards, baldness and even in low to non-existent light. In short, the Face ID is excellent.
In stark contrast, the similar feature from Android falls woefully short of such standards. Moreover, the cybercriminals were able to trick It into things like unlocking the phone, making payments, stealing details and more. The worst part is – all of this can be done by using a simple image of the user, not even the real face. Something unthinkable with iOS.
iPhone vs Android – Which System is More Secure in Brief
|App Store Monitoring||Apps on the app store are stringently monitored and evaluated before they get on it. Moreover, the App Store is a highly restrictive place, but extremely secure||Follows an ‘open marketplace’ policy. Negligent on-going monitoring of the Playstore. Also very easy for apps to get on the Playstore. Highly susceptible to sneak attacks|
|Popularity||It has less than 25% of the market share. Much less susceptible to brute force or phishing attacks since the broad user base is small||Nearly 75% market share. Extremely susceptible to phishing and brute force attacks, with a large user base. There were more than 12000 malware instances every day in 2018 alone|
|Software Updates||Updates are offered as soon as they are released in the market. Offers automatic bug fixes and features. Almost 50% iPhones always run on the latest version, improving overall security levels.||Updates aren’t available as soon as they are released. Palpable lag time and not more than 10% of Android users are on the latest version at a particular time, which makes devices highly unsecured.|
|Data Encryption||Much more secure device. High customer-centricity, and legally fought the FBI over the user’s right to data encryption. No personal data is read or accessed by Apple. Has complete control on apps it provides||Accesses personal data for better advertisement and marketing customization. Playstore is also prone to malware attacks masquerading as friendly apps. However, high-quality data encryption is provided|
|Source Code Security||Closed-off source code, with no third-party intervention. Vulnerabilities never highlighted||Open-source nature makes it highly customizable but also highlights vulnerabilities that can be exploited|
Do you also worry about cyber-criminals hacking your iPhone? If yes, then this guide will come in handy for you!
The iPhone and the fabled iOS platform are highly advanced and coveted assets in their respective fields. But as you can clearly see, they are also susceptible to hacking.
While uncertainties do remain, the best thing about iPhones is the constant research, an attempt at betterment, self-study, and introspection that goes on 24/7 uninterrupted.
They release iOS version updates the moment someone discovers any loopholes. At the Black Hat Conference 2019, they also announced prizes of $1 million to ethical hackers upon responsible disclosure of existing drawbacks in the iOS platform. There is a 50% bonus as well for glitches found in pre-release software.
The good news is that Apple is clearly opening up, and it certainly bodes well for the Apple enthusiasts.
Would you like us to add something extra to this guide on how hackers can hack your iPhone and what you can do to secure it? Let us know your feedback in the comment section below!