Do not panic if your iPhone behaves strangely lately. There might be other reasons that explain bugging.
Michael Hellisson shares his personal story of how to tell if an iPhone has been hacked or is it just some kind of bug. And who would be responsible for the whole thing?
These days, even the most carefree user probably wonders, “Is my iPhone secure?”
I want to be sure that no one can get unauthorized access to my iPhone or its security systems for some malicious purpose.
I don’t care what the intention is: financial benefits, information gathering, out of the fun. No matter. My phone should always remain a closed system.
That’s why we all choose the iPhone, right? They taught us that it’s immune to almost all types of viruses and guarded against any possible attacks.
And that’s what I thought until some exciting turn of the event came into my life.
About two years ago someone broke into my house and stole nothing. My stuff remained as they were. I was confused, and the police had no suspects.
After a couple of weeks of investigation, I started getting back to a healthy life and even forgot everything with all the work and many other problems. Suddenly I began to realize something went wrong with my iPhone.
Here I probably need to mention that my work is closely connected with the law. I have access to some confidential information from airways companies. So I’ve always got this feeling someone might be tapping my iPhone, emails, and phone calls.
Suspicious sounds during phone calls
First, some beeping noise started to interrupt my conversations. It was like loud beeps and squeals that broke out in the middle of chats and then disappeared. My iPhone hadn’t any physical damage and never fell on the ground. That’s why my suspicions began to rise.
Depletion of data
Next thing — I got this strong feeling that my device does not work correctly. As if someone was running many tasks in the background on it without my supervision. Then I found out that once my iPhone got hacked, the dodgy app installed on it sent information to its remote feature and increased data usage. That’s why it’s a good idea to know how much data is being eaten monthly on your device.
But my iPhone? Can it be hacked? Really? I mean, it’s some kind of misleading as the iPhone has the most strong security features. That was my belief.
Surprisingly, many apps can do just that even with the iPhone. Of course, it would be difficult to monitor devices by IP, but if you let your iPhone without attention for more than 20 minutes, someone can install a dodgy app onto it. And you won’t be able to tell for sure it has been hacked. That’s what happened with my iPhone.
Can an iPhone be hacked remotely?
In my case, someone installed a malicious app into the iPhone so that I couldn’t spot it for a long time. After everything was revealed, I proceeded to learn how Iphones can be hacked, and discovered there are many ways for cybercriminals and other bad guys to break into our devices without even touching it.
Ok, giving that I don’t jailbreak my iPhone to avoid getting a virus or being hacked, I still cannot cross out a potential attack that might hide in some app. But what are the chances?
A couple of months after the robbery, Google’s Project Zero security research team revealed an unprecedented attack on the iPhone. Some hackers spotted a “zero-day vulnerability” that let them gain access to the root of the iOS system and infect thousands of devices. All iPhones got infected simply by visiting certain websites. Hackers stole personal information before Apple managed to patch their security holes.
That means that even very unlikely; an iPhone can get unlocked with remote hacking tools. It is not immutable to spam, viruses, spyware, theft, and even phishing attacks. That terrified me to my very core, so I proceeded with my investigation.
What can hackers get?
If an iPhone has been hacked, nasty criminals will get access to all passwords. The Internet browsing history and call logs can be pulled anytime as well.
They will be also capable of:
- Turning on microphone & listening in on my phone calls.
- Monitoring my real-time location.
- Searching through photos & videos.
- Logging keystrokes to detect passwords & usernames.
Is my iPhone hacked?
To separate paranoia from real facts, I’ve prepared a list of most common clear signs that may signal something went wrong with iOS.
Notice that if you have only one sign from the list below, there is probably some kind of bug in one of the apps you regularly use. Only if you have enough evidence, you can start a further investigation. So do not let emotions cloud your judgements, ok?
With my iPhone, it was almost impossible to tell if it was warmer than usual. I didn’t spot much difference. My iPhone regularly gets warm because I love using graphic-intense apps. However, if your iPhone regularly feels warmer than usual, or even hot to touch, and you don’t use feature-rich programs. It might be something software-wise that makes your processor work harder and causes overheating.
Beware if your secrets go away. If some confidential information that only a small number of trusted people know suddenly gets out, the chances are that leak came as a result of an iPhone being hacked, especially if you don’t filter the information you share over your phone calls.
That’s how it happened to me. Some confidential data that I exchanged through my emails and WhatsApp was exposed to unauthorized parties. That was completely my fault.
On my iPhone, I noticed a rapid change in performance, and my data plan exceeded all normal limits. As with a computer, a slowdown in performance means infection, so it was a clear sign someone hacked my iPhone.
Battery drains quickly
Any dodgy app will suck your battery. My iPhone was doing well at this point, but I’ve heard that it’s a common concern when a malicious app runs in plain sight.
Random starts & shutdowns
My iPhone didn’t do that, but I’ve heard that usually, if it’s hacked, it can switch off or turn on as if someone controlled it. My iPhone didn’t dial numbers, start apps and perform other kinds of “paranormal” activity, but hey, if it does something like that, doesn’t this mean you should already be dialing the support center?
Who can hack my Iphone and why?
As I mentioned before, you can always meet people with interest in extracting some personal data from your device. All these malicious programs that were invented as experiments are now instruments for making money. In my case, the purpose was purely information for further use to override in competitive wars. Unfortunately, my reaction was not as quick as it should be.
Is it legal?
It is absolutely against illegal to install spyware on devices to spy or stalk another person. My attorney also confirmed that only parents could legally install such software on their child’s smartphones or tablets. In all other cases, it’s a crime. So I’ve gathered a qualified technical and legal team on my side to prove that my iPhone had been hacked.
How to protect Iphone from being hacked?
I’ve put together these vital precautions so you can secure information sent via your iPhone. They are all simple yet powerful.
iPhone features are constantly updating, sometimes so frequently that it’s hard to keep up with them. My iPhone sends me one hundred notifications during the day, some of which I will never really care about. But once in a month, I make all necessary settings to ensure it’s updated.
Go to Settings > General > tap Software Update.
Don’t share too much over the phone
It may sound obvious, but people sometimes underestimate the power of cyber espionage tools. Our smartphones are far more attractive targets now, and they basically “spewing” data like fountains in all directions around them. My golden rule now is to keep my mouth shut over the phone when it comes to revealing secret information that I know others may be interested in.
Retain from public WIFI
The same refers to sending and receiving confidential information using public Wi-Fi. My primary task was to remove this habit. While doing this, we share our traffic with everyone around. And hackers are usually well at setting up open, unencrypted Wi-Fi hotspots.
If there are no options available, here are something I never do while using public Wi-Fi:
Log in to my bank accounts or input any of my bank or card details,
Entire personal data; if a website warns, it will expose it to the network.
I also review credit card bills, bank statements, and phone bills. If something doesn’t add up, I send out my email report immediately.
Careful with Bluetooth
Hackers use specialized tools to intercept your Bluetooth signal and break into your device. I was intimidated to find out that through just Bluetooth, they can get my messages, my phone book, texts, and even a photo gallery.
To avoid dealing with “bluebugging”, don’t accept pairing requests from unknown parties and set strong passwords of a minimum of six mixed characters.
I’ve never done that to my iPhone. I know where it finishes. My cousin once jailbroke his phone and got the advantage of some third-party apps (not from the app store). He voided a warranty and thus left the device open to malware. God knows what stuck there.
Think of it like that: the legitimate user’s devices control the password reset process. Usually, hackers land on a platform that sends SMS to the phone number of your trusted device and cannot move forward. When you jailbreak iPhone, you grant them a way to pass through and take control over the whole OS.
Don’t open suspicious emails
I never open messages and emails from people I don’t know. A “phishing” letter that criminals send in mass usually contains a dodgy code that can inundate my iPhone with popups, or simply redirects me to websites where hackers earn money from sales or advertisement. To prevent my nervous system from dealing with a plethora of annoying apps, I stay away from all suspicious letters.
My Iphone has been hacked. What’s the first step
If you believe it’s been hacked, don’t rush into stress: my case proved there are many advanced technical applications to detect, notify, and protect your device.
But first, here are some steps to stop information leak and clean up the damage as much as possible. That’s what I did first after my consultation with support Centre:
Delete odd apps
I reviewed the list of my apps and searched for the ones I didn’t remember installing. Deleted all of them.
Restore from backup
As my iPhone behaved strangely, nonetheless, I performed a factory reset and reinstall the system. First, I had backed up and saved my data. Then moved it all away and got fresh started.
Backup your iPhone first, as when you reset your phone, you lose all the information.
< Clear history and Website data>
My iPhone proceeded misbehaving, so I checked the browser and cleaned all the cookies and other stuff that usually gather at the background of Safari.
App support can help
If you’re not dealing with some serious spyware, the App support can come in handy and help remove malware. Given that I was completely sure my iPhone had been hacked, plus it was in my ownership for less than a year, plus I haven’t done anything that violates license agreement, like jailbreaking, the service was free for me.
Let’s wrap it up
Whenever there’s something that people might value, there will be a marketplace for it. And your information may be a goldmine. At least because an app on your device may hold the key to your bank account or because you don’t filter what you share over the phone.
I’ve learned that no device can be immutable through my own bitter experience. Criminals can steal your data by making you click on some phishing link, insert the dodgy code into one of the unofficial apps, or simply physically install spyware on your device as was in my case.
Thankfully, it’s not so difficult to take some preventive measures if you want to hackproof your device. First and foremost, do not use emails and messengers to exchange confidential data. These are non-secure tools, and you can never be sure a third-party app does not monitor your chats. And second, don’t jailbreak your phone. With it, you grant thiefs the way to bypass security features and gain access to the operational system and your personal data. If you believe someone has hacked your phone, contact the Support Centre and explain your concerns. And last but not least, always keep your phone in your possession.
These precautions may sound easy and non-obligatory, but in this age of mass surveillance, they could be very useful.