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Back to August 2012 Newsletter

iPhone Security

by Ryan Coyle

There was a time not that long ago when the most valuable thing that I kept in my pocket was my wallet.  Cash, credit cards, and ID would be terrible to lose.  These days, my phone has eclipsed the value of my wallet by a good margin.  Today’s smartphones allow you to manage all aspects of your identity, perform instant access to your bank accounts, email, and contain all sorts of personal information.  McAfee has reported that as many as 5% of all smartphones will be lost in the next year.  The threat posed by having your smartphone in the wrong hands is real as CNN has reported that close to 95% of people who find smartphones attempt to access personal, or sensitive information such as your email or online banking.  Suffice it to say, they’re not just interested in your cat photos. 
The question becomes, what can you do about it?  If you have an iPhone (and estimates show that 2 out of 3 of you do) here are some tips that can help you keep your data safe and also help you if you happen to lose your iPhone.

  • Put a passcode on your phone – This is probably the quickest, easiest, and most effective thing that you can do to keep phone and information safe in the event that it becomes lost.    Go to Settings, General, Passcode Lock, and can create a simple passcode lock for your phone.  Even a simple 4-digit passcode can prevent people from accessing your phone.  Try to avoid using the same combination as your banking PIN, as well as the usual birthday, anniversary, etc.  Also, avoid these common PINs as they’re the ones that people will try first when attempting to unlock your device: 1234, 2580, 1111, 5555, 5683, 0852, 2222, 1212 and 1998. 

    It should also be noted that it is not a bad idea to turn on the Erase Data feature.  This sounds terrifying at the beginning as I have thoughts of my kids getting a hold of my phone and failing the passcode often enough to wipe my data.  The reality of it is, that after a few failed attempts, it adds a delay to further attempts, starting at five minutes and eventually going to 30 minutes before the final purge.  Also, it is relatively easy for you to restore your data to the phone using iTunes, assuming that you’re backing it up regularly using iCloud or iTunes.  It is unlikely that anyone would waste that much time trying to access your phone, unless it was lost.
  • Enable Find My iPhone – This feature is fantastic if you ever happen to lose your phone.  Whether you leave it in the bookstore or under your couch cushions, you can remotely lock it, remotely wipe it, or have it play audible tones to help you locate it.  With iOS 5 and later, the Find My iPhone app is built into the system.  To enable it, go to Settings, iCloud, and turn Find My iPhone to On.  If you’re running iOS 4.x you can download the app for free from the App Store.
  • Don’t Jail break your Phone – Jail breaking your iPhone may seem like a cool or neat idea.  If you’re not familiar with it, jail breaking is the process of removing the restrictions placed on your iOS device by Apple.  It can allow you to change carriers, run non-App store approved applications or otherwise customize or tweak your interface.  The problem is that it also opens the door to have your device infested with malware, spyware and other rogue software.  While you may not always agree with Apple’s control of content through the App Store, the security blanket it provides is far and away more secure.
  • Turn off Autofill – Most people who are using the iPhone are using the built-in Safari mobile browser.  Mobile Safari uses a feature called Autofill to automate the completion of forms in which you enter data.  While this is a handy feature to have, and it saves some thumb typing, sensitive information could be gathered.  If your phone was lost, in many cases all someone would have to do is open Safari, open your history, go to any site that you used and Safari would fill in the login/password automatically.  This could potentially give someone access to your accounts without them even having to try to guess your passwords.  To disable this go to Settings, Safari, Autofill and toggle the setting to Off.
  • Securely wipe your phone before selling (but not before you get everything on your new iPhone) – With a highly anticipated release of the next iPhone being projected for next month, many people will be racing to trade in their old goods and upgrade to the latest and greatest.  Before you trade in that old iPhone or sell it on eBay, make sure that you securely erase your data from your phone.  It has been found that many times even factory-refurbished iPhones still contain data from previous users.  To perform a secure wipe of your data use the following steps:
    • Reset all settings.  This will delete all of your personalized files
    • Restore the iPhone to its factory state by using iTunes – This process performs a quick format of the device
    • Use the application iErase (available from the AppStore for $2.99) to securely erase the data on your device