A Wired article caught our attention recently. Written in it was the chance of NSA spying on your iPhone even when it's switched off – a possibility that is scary and debated. While the conspiracy theorists and paranoids talk about NSA's ever-increasingly-scary capabilities in privacy-intrusion, let's take a careful look at what the article posits and what we need to be alert about.
Often, what's written is misinterpreted and misconstrued. And many times, it's easier to do that because the written word is crafted to sound ominous and alarming. Contrary to the ideas floating around the web after Wired published the article, your iPhone is not playing dead when it's switched off. And a malware of the type hinted by the article is really really hard to install on the iPhone.
The Super Paranoid Theory
There's a thin line of separation between being paranoid and being aware of things. It's true that there are exploits in iPhone that can be leveraged but it's enormously hard to have your iPhone hacked into and malware placed in it without your knowledge or suspicion. But there's only so much you can do when someone tells you, “if you're going to be paranoid, you might as well be super-paranoid.”
Yes, the NSA snooping is scary as hell and is actually so bad that nothing makes sense. Neither the government nor the agency is ready to accept that what is being done is outside the realms of ethics and legality. There is also the case where NSA has been intercepting packages and installing stuff in gadgets before delivering them. It's pathetically bad.
Having said all that, it's no help getting super-paranoid. But there are few steps that you can take to ensure that your iPhone is safe from prying eyes:
- The DFU Mode + Hard Reset
- Don't Install Random Apps
- If You've Jailbroken the iPhone, Be Very Cautious
- Keep Your Apple ID & iCloud account safe
- Don't Share Location Data With All Apps
The DFU Mode + Hard Reset
In the Wired article, it's mentioned that it's possible to install a malware in the iPhone. When you turn off your iPhone, then, it doesn't necessarily turn it off but only fakes a switch-off.
Yes, that's possible but very highly unlikely unless you give your iPhone to someone who jailbreaks it and installs a malware that you can almost easily figure out it's there. Remotely installing something on your iPhone is not possible unless it's an app you willingly download.
Still, if you want to make sure you've got things secured, do a DFU mode or a hard reset. Here's how to get into the DFU mode (only useful if you are upgrading the firmware). A hard reset is when you press and hold the power and home button simultaneously till the screen goes blank. Then, you can switch on the iPhone normally.
Don't Install Random Apps
All apps in the App Store are checked for malicious code and content by Apple. The filtering process and quality checks are so intense that the App Store is quite safe compared to the Android counterpart, Google Play. Also, unlike Android smartphones, you can't install any random app file (unless you are an advanced user).
Even then, don't install random apps from the app store. Check for reviews both within the App Store and elsewhere on the web.
If You've Jailbroken the iPhone, Be Very Cautious
Jailbreaking opens up a whole new world, as we've written a lot of times. But it sure comes with a pitfall you must be aware of: it makes your iPhone more vulnerable. Most users jailbreak to install tweaks. Most tweaks are good, safe. But there are also rogue developers who intentionally create malware-like tweaks that can intrude on your iPhone privacy.
Keep Your Apple ID & iCloud account safe
The most important part of it all is your Apple ID / iCloud account. This is because it controls your iPhone's Find My iPhone, most of the backup data (including stuff that syncs like Photos, Contacts, Mail, Documents and more). Once someone hacks into your Apple ID, they can access a ton of stuff, erase your data and do much damage.
Change passwords occasionally and have strong passwords. Also, don't let others access your Apple ID.
Don't Share Location Data With All Apps
Many apps require location data. iOS asks for your permission whenever an app requests location data. While it makes sense to share your location data with apps that require it (maps and navigation apps for instance), it is not necessary that you should do so. Only share the data with apps that you trust.