When the first iPhone burst onto the scene back in 2007, Apple marketed its game-changing device as unhackable, just as it had done consistently with its desktop products. While the company has leaned away from the hyperbole with more recent iterations, it was enough to create a permanent impression that iOS is somehow totally hack-proof.
This, of course, isn’t true. In a nutshell, any networked device is hackable.
So, how do you know if your iPhone has been hacked? Read on to find out all things iOS security, including how to tell if your iPhone is hacked and what to do if your iPhone is hacked.
Can An iPhone Be Hacked?
The short answer is yes—any networked device can, by definition, be hacked.
Apple is far from being the only tech giant to claim something to the contrary, and iOS is well-regarded as being a particularly secure operating system.
But that ignores the fact that the vast majority of hacks are facilitated through human error: using weak, repeated, or compromised passwords, clicking phishy links, erroneously sharing personal details and credit card numbers… you get the idea.
Let’s consider the likely hacking scenarios.
Can An iPhone Be Hacked Remotely?
A ‘remote’ hack refers to a hack facilitated away from the location of the device being hacked. While these aren’t unheard of, they are, thankfully, highly unlikely. It would be unthinkably expensive and require expert knowledge to hack without malicious software or physical access, so unless you happen to be a Kardashian or a Royal, there’s a pretty high chance you’ll never be targeted.
Still, enabling two-factor authentication is a simple and effective way to prevent it. Exploiting iCloud backups is essentially the sole means of remote hacking the iPhone of an average Joe, so enabling two-factor authentication prevents access even if your password has been compromised.
Can An iPhone Be Hacked by Visiting a Website?
Apps downloaded from the App Store will never contain viruses or malware outright. Even on Safari, it’s highly unlikely that malware could be installed on your device, but it isn’t impossible. Adware and phishy links have been around since the birth of the internet, and iPhones aren’t immune to them.
If you’ve visited a suspicious website and have concerns, close the website, and take time to look diligently through your phone’s storage to see if anything has been downloaded. This could appear under ‘data and documents’. Delete any downloads you don’t recall.
Can An iPhone Be Hacked by Clicking a Link?
It is significantly more likely that malware or spyware would install itself if you clicked on a phishing link on iPhone than if you simply visited a suspicious website. Scrolling through a page without interacting with it is unlikely to install anything on your device—but intrusive pop-ups are likely to appear.
Instead of attempting to exit the pop-up (most will have fake closure buttons), simply close the Safari app (or browser app of your choice). When you return to it, immediately create a new tab; from there, close the tab of the website with the intrusive links without returning to it. You could also delete and reinstall your browser app. If pop-ups are severe, a hard reset will be necessary to avoid clicking links.
Can An iPhone Be Hacked from Text Messages?
Last year, a journalist for The New York Times reported that their phone had been hacked, alleging that the government of Saudi Arabia was behind it. It certainly wasn’t the first—or the last—time a journalist has claimed to have been hacked by a government body, but what was especially concerning is that it was facilitated through a zero-click text message.
There’s no doubt that it is possible to be hacked just by receiving a text, but there’s a reason these reports only point the finger at world governments; as with other forms of true remote hacking, a zero-click hack would be an absurdly expensive and complicated endeavour for a person without significant resources. ‘Pegasus’, the sophisticated spyware from NSO Group responsible for the WhatsApp hack, is alleged to be behind these zero-click hacks.
Can An iPhone Be Hacked Through a Phone Call?
Unfortunately, hacking through phone calls is also a possibility through Pegasus. Even if the user doesn’t pick up the call, this is sufficient for the spyware to exploit vulnerabilities in the operating system and discreetly install itself. Apple claims to continually update iOS to prevent such attacks.
Specific apps it will target on iPhone are WhatsApp, iMessage, Phone, and Camera: it’s capable of reading texts, tracking calls and locations, collecting passwords, and using the device’s microphone and camera. No wonder the New York Times recently deemed it ‘the world’s most powerful cyberweapon’.
Can An iPhone Be Hacked When Turned Off?
Whether an iPhone can be hacked when it’s turned off is up for debate. In essence, if the iPhone is truly off, there is no feasible way for it to be hacked via the internet, texts, calls, or some other remote means.
There is a rather limited argument to suggest the presence of the phone’s static current (which will still be present so long as the battery isn’t drained) is enough to be hacked, but this is, for all intents and purposes, unfeasible. In the extraordinarily unlikely case that someone smashes your phone open to steal its insides, yes, its physical storage could essentially be ‘hacked’. But we guess you’d have to have something extremely valuable on there to warrant that much effort!
Is My iPhone Hacked? 5 Warning Signs
Since the ‘selling point’ of advanced spywares like Pegasus is precisely how discreet they are, it can be difficult, if not completely impossible, for most of us to spot the signs. Thankfully, most of us aren’t high profile individuals.
Here’s some of the signs of a hacked iPhone.
1. Files you didn’t download appear
A tell-tale sign of something nasty being installed onto your device is if files you don’t recall downloading suddenly appear on your device. If something raises a flag, take time to go through what’s on your phone and delete what you don’t recall.
2. Apps you didn’t download appear
Similarly, apps that randomly download themselves onto your iPhone are an obvious sign your device has been hacked. These will be apps that aren’t available for public release (i.e. on the App store). This is a legal and permissible feature of iOS—it’s supposed to be reserved for companies with internal apps or for dev software but can be exploited by hackers to install malware or spyware.
3. Your iPhone is jailbroken
‘Jailbreaking’ devices is a term used to describe hacking that bypasses restricted modes of operation. Many people purposely jailbreak their iPhone to create custom features, change the look of the interface, and so forth. Though it’s virtually impossible to jailbreak remotely, if you have a lost or stolen phone returned to you and the interface appears different (or you notice unusual apps installed), it may be jailbroken and therefore highly susceptible to hacking. Jailbreaking allows for all kinds of manipulation, monitoring, and tracking of data. A factory reset will remove jailbreak exploits.
4. Data draining
A useful habit to start is to keep tabs on how much internet data you are using. Many network providers now have apps that show exactly how much data you are using in real time. Not only does this help you keep tabs on your internet usage, it also is a great way to tell if your iPhone is exhibiting unusual behaviors. If you notice a massive spike in data usage, it could be a sign that something has been discreetly installed to pass on information to a hacker.
5. Battery draining
Though it’s a little more difficult given how notoriously fast iPhone batteries die, it’s also worth keeping an eye on exactly how much use you get out of your device before needing to recharge. A battery that’s draining unusually fast could be a sign that discreet background processes are occurring. Of course, it’s worth taking the iPhone to the Apple store first to get it checked out before assuming the worst.
What To Do If An iPhone Is Hacked?
If you feel confident that your iPhone is hacked, there are a number of things you can do to rectify the situation.
Firstly, contact your bank. To put it plainly, unless you’ve been gossiping on the group chat about highly classified information on another country, access to a credit or debit card is almost guaranteed to be what hackers want from your device.
Have your bank cancel your card and reject transactions made within the period you suspect it has been hacked. Likewise, any online payment accounts, like PayPal, will require similar treatment and immediate password resets.
Password resets are crucial because there is a strong likelihood that existing passwords will be compromised within seconds of being hacked. These should be facilitated on another device. Clear all passwords, cookies, and cached data on the iPhone in question.
A factory reset will completely wipe everything on your iPhone. In many cases, this will be necessary, particularly if you suspect something discreet has been installed, or that there’s a jailbreak.
These tips all aim to quickly rectify the situation, but it’s important to remember that being hacked is not something to take lightly; it’s a very serious invasion of privacy, and if you suspect that someone is spying on you, do not hesitate to go to the relevant authorities and report what’s occurred. Experts can then be assigned to take a deep dive into your device and discover who or what is hacking your device, as well as where it’s come from.
5 Essential Tips for Smartphone Security: Secure Your iPhone From Hackers
· NEVER jailbreak – it’s an invitation to hackers.
· REGULARLY update – vulnerabilities will be patched.
· REFRESH all passwords, stored credit cards, and addresses – these are what hackers want.
· COVER the camera – one of the oldest tricks in the book! If you’re using AlfredCamera as a surveillance solution, it’s good to know that the app features industry-leading security features to protect your footage and privacy.
· INSTALL third-party security software – anti-virus software is available for iPhones from reputable companies, like McAfee, Norton, and Avira.
How do I run a virus scan on my iPhone?
iOS doesn’t support any native ‘virus scanning’ that users can activate. However, third party anti-virus apps, like Norton and McAfee, are available to download for iPhone should you wish to keep closer tabs on malware. For most of us, though, simply updating iOS regularly should be adequate at keeping viruses at bay.
Can Apple check if my iPhone is hacked?
Since filing a class-action lawsuit against NSO Group (the Israeli company responsible for Pegasus), Apple claims that it will inform users when it detects state-sponsored hacking. The number of users who will be targeted by these attacks is exceptionally low, so don’t expect one of these messages any time soon (if you do get one, it’s probably a phishing link). If you have concerns about your iPhone acting up, take it to your local Apple store to get checked out.
Can I tell if someone has accessed my iPhone?
Yes. In Settings, click on Screen Time, and then See All Activity. Here you’ll see a comprehensive breakdown of your screen time, including what apps you used, for how long, and at what time. Note that you will need to enable activity/screen time monitoring to do this.
Can an iPhone be hacked? We won’t sugar coat it: absolutely, just as any networked device can be. Thankfully, they are known for being rigid with their security, and frequent updates to iOS aim to mitigate any exploitable vulnerabilities.
Wreaking havoc on high-profile individuals across the world, Pegasus does represent an alarming future for hacks facilitated with zero-clicks. Thankfully, that threat does remain exceptionally low for those of us who aren’t diplomats, dignitaries, or journalists—at least for now.
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