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Don't assume iCloud will protect your data

Keeping your data on iCloud will not give guaranteed protection from cyber-criminals.

Published by Claire Broadley

Features like iCloud have gone a long way towards reducing the value of stolen phones. The secondary benefit is that they are gently nudging us towards being more careful with our data and devices, and teaching us better security habits, like longer passcodes.

But locks are not totally foolproof.

A determined criminal can steal your phone and sell it on, even if you think it’s locked and safe. It’s a scary thought, and it really proves just how important it is to secure your devices.

Yes, Bypassing the iCloud Lock is Possible

Last year, my husband’s iPhone 8 was stolen. He was distracted trying to deal with our son, who was ill. The thief took it from (almost) under his nose.

We did all the right things, including activating Find My iPhone, the iCloud feature that would text us when the phone was next turned on. We received one text, at around 1am, and then the phone immediately disappeared from his account.

His iCloud had been disabled in less than five minutes.

For obvious reasons, I’m not going to tell you how this was done. But it is possible. It isn’t uncommon. And it sometimes takes just a few minutes.

So while iCloud and similar services are useful, it’s important not to be complacent when it comes to the security of your device or data.

How Hackers Get Around Security

Hackers often know just as much (if not more) about devices as the people who wrote the code in the first place.

Even if they can’t completely remove an iCloud lock, they can get around it for long enough to sell the stolen device.

It is far easier for hackers to bypass security on old devices running outdated software. That’s why it’s so important to apply manufacturer software upgrades as soon as you are notified that they are available. But even the latest devices aren’t totally immune.

Protect Your Device and Data

A stolen phone is inconvenient and potentially expensive, but the loss of data is permanent. If your phone is stolen with your holiday pictures on it, you will never get those memories back.

It’s important to:

  • Have good quality security software on all devices -- don’t just rely on the passcode or PIN

  • Be sensible with the way you use and carry devices, particularly in busy or unfamiliar places

  • Avoid using features that unlock your phone when you are in certain locations unless you feel totally safe

  • Back up anything that you would miss if your phone was stolen this evening, including photos, music, wallet apps, and important business documents; cloud backup over private Wi-Fi is the safest and easiest way

  • Store phones securely when unattended

  • Don’t allow your kids to carry valuables around.

We’ve written a bit more about keeping your phone safe on holiday on our blog.