This past August, those fears were realized when the Israeli hacking firm NSO Group broke through iPhone security.
United Arab Emirate dissident Ahmed Mansoor reported the hack when he received a suspicious text message with a link to an unknown website. Mansoor forwarded the message to cybersecurity groups Lookout Security and Citizen Lab where the teams determined that the link could hack into iPhones. The link was eventually traced back to NSO Group, a US-funded and Israel-based hacking group that offers spying services to governments. NSO Group includes many former members of United 8200, Israel’s military cyber division, motivated by a desire to prevent crime and terrorism.
For those of us who keep so much of our private information on our iPhones, the hack raises more than a few concerns.
NSO Group’s hack allowed the organization to read iPhone text messages and emails, record sounds, collect passwords, and track calls and user location. That’s a bit freaky. Not to mention a bad omen for what lies ahead for cybersecurity.
If you’re just as nervous about the future of technology as we were when we heard this news, take a deep breath. There’s plenty you can do to protect your information with little effort.
1. Stay current with your phone.
Make sure to backup and update your phone often! Backing up your phone will help keep extra copies of all important information (in case you are hacked and happen to lose any data). Plus, updating your phone regularly will help you stay on top of recent security.
When NSO Group tried to hack Mansoor’s phone, Apple created a security patch within 10 days. That’s the kind of update you want to stay up-to-date with!
2. Trust your gut when it comes to wifi networks.
Keep an eye on the wifi and bluetooth networks you’re connecting to, and when in doubt, disconnect. Hackers love to set up open wifi connections, and if your phone is set up to connect to any open network it will love those hackers back.
Pay attention to which wifi networks you’re connecting to, and what information you’re sharing over unknown connections.
3. Erase unnecessary – and important – data.
No need to keep everything on your phone. We know it’s tempting (and hard to remember to delete), but when you’re done with any important information, get rid of it. Hackers will have a whole lot less to get ahold of if you’re only holding onto the basics.
You can always back up your information on more secure devices.
4. Be careful what you click on.
Mansoor serves as a great example in this case: by not clicking on the link that the NSO Group sent him, he saved himself a load of trouble. Be cautious when following unknown links (and remember that you can hover over them to see where they’ll take you).
Hackers love to use websites that look familiar (try google.co instead of google.com, or yahooo.com instead of yahoo.com)–so just keep a careful eye out.
5. Use a security app – but make sure it isn’t a trojan horse.
If keeping track of these rules seems too overwhelming, have no fear. There are plenty of apps out there that can monitor your phone’s security for you. For starters, check out BlackSMS or Lookout–they’ll keep tabs on your network connections and offer suggestions for improving security.
Tech companies and even national governments are keeping an eye on cybersecurity, but there’s lots you can do to take care of yourself. We might be living in a science fiction movie, but that doesn’t mean you need to be worried about a horror film ending.
Cecilia Nowell is a freelance journalist and recent graduate of Wellesley College. She writes about politics and art, and gets excited about graphic novels, mythology, and art therapy. In her free time, she runs a cat blog, drinks too much tea, and enjoys hiking.