Is my iPhone as Safe as They Say? — The Psychology of Technology
For months now I’ve been seeing huge billboards with the words Apple, Security and Privacy on them. Apple have clearly identified another USP (“Unique Selling Point”) around keeping us safe. As a person who has a mix of Apple and non-Apple products (I have both an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy phone; I also use both a Dell laptop and a MacBook Pro) I am intrigued by what sets Apple products apart from the competition. And there’s no doubt, the Apple products are unique, nicely designed and well built, but they do have their drawbacks. These are mainly in the area of flexibility, which may not be of importance to the vast majority of their customers.
Privacy and Security
But what I do think is important to most is privacy and security. And I suspect most Apple users believe that they are safe under the promises Apple has been making. So, I was quite surprised to find out recently that there was a pretty stunning vulnerability in the iOS operating system. One that was exploited by the Israeli cyber security company, the NSO Group. You may (or may not) have heard about the recent revelation that NSO’s platform — Pegasus — can allow its users to gain access to a 3rd party’s iPhone’s data. Data such as emails, text messages and a whole bunch of stuff you would not want others to see. It can even take over the phone’s camera! Initially, it required the iPhone user to open a link but, in more recent versions of the software, all that was needed was a particular message arriving in the iPhone’s iMessage inbox and the device was compromised.
This vulnerability has now been addressed by iOS version 14.7.1 (if you are on a version lower than that I suggest you update now). Even so, along with the Solar Winds breach in late 2020 (that affected a number of US government agencies and big firms, including Microsoft), it is obviously that achieving a state of complete cyber security is more of an aspiration than a possible reality. Still, I would have thought Apple would have done better than that.
So, in case you don’t know much about the story, the Pegasus platform was developed by The NSO Group as a product to be sold to governments to use to spy on “bad actors” — you know, terrorists, nasty criminals and the like. Unfortunately, some of its government clients have been using it to spy on journalists, lawyers, activists and others with opinions different to theirs. The likes of you and I (Joe/Jo Citizen) are generally not the target because what we tend to discuss in our day-to-day correspondence is of little interest to most governments (I’m assuming!).
Dealing With Uncertainty
So that got me thinking, we really are now in a world of uncertainty. When even the world’s biggest tech company cannot defend us from unauthorised intruders. So, if that is the case then what can we do about stopping people developing and using these kinds of platforms? The reality is, very little. Our world is very quickly becoming digital and we are increasingly not given non-digital choices, so unless we want to live off the grid and away from the rest of humanity, we are stuck with this new reality. The reality that we are always never 100% safe. We could have our privacy taken away from us leading to the loss of our identity and all that brings with it, at any point.
So, what can we do to stay safe? Firstly, practice what I call good digital hygiene — very simple things like always keep your operating system up to date, never give your password to anyone (even your loved ones!), honour the P in PC (PERSONAL Computer) and don’t let others on your machine (on any of your devices, for that matter) and make sure you are ready for an attack, so when if it does happen, you’re not blindsided. This includes keeping your backups up to date and separated from your devices, use different types of backup methods — for example, by default, most Apple users use iCloud, why not use something else like OneDrive, Dropbox or Google Drive. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a copy on a physical drive, but if you do that, make sure you encrypt it!
It’s Ultimately in Our Hands
This is the new reality of our world and it’s never going back to the way it was. Having said everything I just have, by taking a few precautions we can make ourselves just that little bit more difficult to hack than the next person, which could do enough to divert the unwanted attention from hackers and intruders to someone less “hygienic”. And in doing so, not only can we continue to enjoy the benefits of our new, ever-evolving digital world, but we can look forward to all the wonderful things that it will bring to us in the future. For me, I’m excited about building my Digital Twin to outlive me, but that’s an article for another time. For now, we must competently deal with what we have in front of us.
So, while we may love our Apple products and have great faith in Apple the company, ultimately, our privacy and our security is OUR problem. As such, let’s own that problem, make good decisions and ultimately depend on ourselves to stay (digitally) safe.