Cloud-based platforms are normally very secure, however there are several loopholes that can be exploited to access private information and hack into someone’s iCloud account. Email scams, data encryption vulnerabilities, unsecure connections, and forgetting to activate 2FA on one’s iPhone are just a few of the most common causes.
A few days ago, Pippa Middleton was the victim of a hacking attack, when her iCloud account was accessed without permission. It can happen to anyone.
Private content stored on iCloud includes pictures, messages, contacts, sensitive notes and conversations. Access to private data can lead to identity theft, public exposure of private information, and ransomware attacks.
Knowing how to protect yourself before any of this happens is more important than knowing what to do when you realise your iCloud account has been hacked.
Rules to follow if you want to keep your data safe
Responsibility for data security in cloud-based environments is shared between software owners and users. Causes for leaked private information can be traced back to password strength, email phishing attempts and bad security habits.
Let’s start with the basics and work our way towards more sophisticated prevention and iCloud protection methods.
1. Don’t trust all emails asking for iCloud authentication. Phishing emails take advantage of faking legitimate security measures triggered by “detective controls”. These controls are in place to detect suspicious activity, based on what is known about a user’s default preferences. Suspicious activity includes sudden change of location, unusual purchasing, several login attempts. When a suspicious event is found, Apple will send a legitimate email to notify the user.
Phishing emails simulate these legitimate attempts to validate a user’s recent activity, and ask for the user’s credentials. That’s the first red flag. The message could be: “We’ve recently detected suspicious activity in your iCloud account. Use this form to reset your password”.
Every time you see an email specifically asking for credentials, check the URL. If you see any other domain than iCloud.com, or if you notice an insecure certificate when browsing, it’s most likely a phishing attempt.
Apple advises that “users should never enter their Apple ID or password into a website that presents a certificate warning.”
We recommend you to access your iCloud account directly without using any email link. Always use the official iCloud website to log in, change password or check for warning messages. If you don’t see anything suspicious, the received email is probably from a hacker trying to steal your iCloud credentials. You can get in touch with Apple’s security team and report them these attempts.
2. Don’t click on anything suspicious. A security company discovered a few weeks ago that the iOS is vulnerable and can be hacked by accessing a single link. Mike Murray, a security expert from Lookout, described this issue as “the most sophisticated spyware package we have seen in the market”. Apparently, this hacking tool seems to be linked with NSO Group, an Israeli company which makes different applications for governments. You can imagine the level of interest of some governments and organizations for iCloud accessing data. However, a few hours later, Apple launched an iOS update, which solved this vulnerability.
What should we learn from this lesson? Even though this security problem was solved, many other security risks could appear. If you receive any unusual message or email containing links, it’s best to ignore it.
If you want to not be the target of spyware packages, make sure your email account is private. Here are three things you can do to ensure privacy:
- Use a separate email address for purchases, social networks and promotional messages, and a private, rarely disclosed one for information you wish to keep secure. Share it only with trusted people.
- Create filters for email accounts you trust and avoid opening messages that look like spam but got past your filters.
- Enable multiple step identification - such as using a mobile number to receive notifications for suspicious activity
- Encrypt your emails. Different methods can be used to benefit by this feature: use a web based email provider or set up your Outlook to use encrypted connections.
- Activate information rights management (IRM) in Outlook. Once you have this option enabled, select the “Do Not Forward” option and make it active. This will prevent that your conversations to be shared, copied, or printed.
- Use an additional antispam app and make sure you filter any annoying message.
3. Use a very strong password. One of the best methods to avoid iCount data accessing is to use a strong password. We suggest using a long password containing numbers, letters and punctuation signs. Don’t forget to save the password in a very safe place.
Tools like 1Password or KeePass generate random character strings which generally make very strong passwords. The first tool helps you to keep all your passwords in a single place, the second one can be used to generate very strong passwords and store them safely.
4. Associate the iCloud with a strong email account. A recent Yahoo scandal has revealed that email accounts are sometimes not very well protected. With more than 500 million emails hacked, there is always the risk of your iCloud account to be connected to a hacked email address. If you have an iCloud account associated with a Yahoo email address, it’s best to change your password as soon as it possible.
In this situation, the hacker can pretend to be you, get the password received on the stolen email address. To avoid this it’s best to use a strong email provider. Gmail, for example, can be considered one of them, but you can pick anything else, as long as you trust it.
5. Don’t use unsecured wireless networks. The free hotspots are apparently a good place to browse the web. But are you sure you’re connected to a legit hotspot?
The simple answer is: you can’t be sure. As the wireless connections are not visible, the data transferred from your iPhone to a router can be stolen if a hacker is positioned between you and that router. Also, a mobile hotspot pretending to be someone else could attract a lot of people interested in accessing Internet for free.
The best thing you can do is to avoid accessing the Internet using these hotspots. The secured public WiFi connections are safer but you are still exposed to risks if you use them to access the iCloud.
Use a good data plan instead with your carrier and make sure your home WiFi network is secured.
6. Enable “Find My iPhone” on your device. Once activated, this option allows you to get in touch with your lost or stolen iPhone. We’ve covered in depth this subject, in this article.
The main idea is that you can use this feature to access your lost iPhone remotely, send messages to its display, find its position or entirely wipe its data unless you recover it. Make sure you save your data before any remotely factory reset procedure.
By using this feature, you’ll remotely block the iCloud access, even if you don’t have an active passcode. Just access your iCloud account and activate the “Lost mode” for that device and your iCloud account will be safe.
7. Delete unwanted pics from PhotoStream or iCloud Photo library. If you have images which are not very important for you, delete them. The images can be used by hackers for a different purposes, as they represent a target for their attacks.
If the images are important for you, extract and save them locally on your computer or on an external hard drive.
8. Encrypt your locally saved data. If you have sensitive info downloaded on your computer, sometimes it’s best to encrypt it. A robbery can make your laptop disappear with all your valuable data. In this situation, a thief can access your private files or can get in touch with your iCloud account if the login credentials are saved in your browser.
Make sure you have all your important data, encrypted, to avoid such possibility.
9. Use strong security questions and answers. More than one year ago, Colin Powell and George W. Bush lost their email data after their accounts was illegally accessed by a Romanian hacker. First, the hacker attacked the security questions area. After a lot of attempts, he was able to access both emails by using public information for answers.
For example, a possible security question is: “Where are you born”? If someone knows the place where somebody is born, it could eventually answer this question and get access to its iCloud data.
To avoid this possibility, use more difficult questions and answers. For example, choose an alternate question like: “Which is your favorite movie?” or “Which is your favorite author?”. By using more difficult security questions, you’ll avoid illegal data access.
10. Turn off Safari’s AutoFill. Data stored in your browser can become accessible in case a hacker gets access to your iPhone. As long as the passwords or credit cards data are stored in the browser and are available with a single click, it’s best to have this option disabled.
For this, access Safari’s settings, go to AutoFill and disable it if you need to protect your data.
11. Be prudent with Siri’s settings. You need to know that Siri’s default settings are to allow users access data using their voices. This is a security risk as long as anyone could eventually get some answers without using the keyboard.
From Settings go to Touch ID & Passcode and make sure Siri is not activated. If it’s enabled, change its settings and make it inactive.
12. Activate data erasing after failed passcode attempts. This is one of the most simple methods to prevent iCloud data access by using your stolen iPhone. If this option is enabled and somebody tries to guess your passcode, after ten failed attempts, the iPhone data is deleted from the device.
To activate this feature, from Settings, access Touch ID & Passcode and activate the “Erase Data” option. Once this is enabled, your iPhone and iCloud data will be safer.
13. Make sure you check legitimate iCloud notifications. As long as the iCloud sends emails for every single account access, it’s best to check very often your email account.
If somebody accesses the iCloud, you’ll get a notification on your email address.
When you check that address, you’ll see a notification, and you’ll know that someone else accessed your iCloud data. If you don’t recognize that activity, access the iCloud and change your password.
14. Activate two-factor authentication on your iPhone. There is also another feature we saved for the end. A few years ago Apple introduced an additional layer of security, which has increased iCloud security. This feature protects the iCloud account even the password is accessible to someone else. As long as the potential hacked doesn’t have access to your trusted devices, the iCloud account is inaccessible.
This article explains more in depth how to activate this feature on your iPhone and iCloud account.
These are the most important security features that prevent illegal iCloud access. The security risks are increasing and new tools are developed by different illegal organizations and hackers.
Remember that perfect security is impossible. But using these tips, you can be sure that your iPhone is protected by the most important security safeguerds.
If you’re interested in iCloud or iTunes data recovery, iPhone Backup Extractor is guaranteed to be clean of spyware, adware or viruses. The connection used for data extraction is encrypted and our users’ credentials are under no circumstances stored on our servers. iPhone Backup Extractor also offers full support for 2FA protected iCloud accounts.
Our expert iOS team can provide you additional data and advice if you need to secure your iCloud data. If you have questions, use the comment form below and we’ll try to offer you the best solutions for your problems.