Can iPhones Really Be Hacked?
When Ben Hubbard’s iPhone was hacked, it put people’s lives at stake. As a reporter covering the Middle East for The New York Times, Hubbard’s phone included contact details, notes, and other sensitive information about secure sources — making his phone a prime target for state-sponsored hackers [*].
While you might not be in the crosshairs of political hacking groups, your iPhone still contains information that could put your identity or finances in jeopardy. And despite the hype, iPhone hacks are not impossible.
Some research even claims that [*]:
“iPhones are 232 times more likely to be hacked than a Nokia.”
With this growing threat (and evolving weapons at the disposal of bad actors), you may be wondering, “Can someone hack my iPhone?”
In this guide, we’ll review the most serious iPhone hacking threats, how to tell if your phone has been hacked, and what to do to secure both your phone and your identity.
How Can Someone Hack Your iPhone? The 9 Biggest Risks To Your Security
Although iPhones have more secure operating systems than android phones, no smartphone is immune to cyberattacks. Ultimately, hackers can infiltrate any networked digital technology — it's just a question of how and when.
Here are nine common ways that someone can hack your iPhone:
1. Someone has direct access to your iPhone
Once hackers have physical access to your iPhone, they can install spyware (also known as "stalkerware") on the device. This software lets them see everything on your phone, including your geolocation and personal data.
📚 Related: Stolen Phone? Don’t Panic. Here’s What To Do →
2. Malware and other viruses hidden in legitimate apps
Cyberattackers embed malware in the code of legitimate applications to trick you into installing files that could potentially access, corrupt, or steal information on your device. In October 2022, Meta warned iPhone users after 47 apps were removed from the Apple App Store because of hidden malware [*].
📚 Related: Does a VPN Protect You From Viruses? →
3. Security issues with jailbroken iPhones
Jailbreaking an iPhone is a privilege escalation process designed to remove Apple’s software restrictions. Most people do this so that they can download any apps or software and customize their iPhones however they like.
But jailbroken devices are vulnerable to cyber threats. In December 2021, a cybercriminal hacked the iPhones of nine U.S. State Department employees. Authorities report that the hacker jailbroke all the phones using the sophisticated spyware Pegasus [*].
📚 Related: How To Identify (and Avoid) Apple Phishing Emails →
4. iPhone calendar invite hacks
You might notice unfamiliar appointments appearing in your Calendar. If you click on these suspicious notices, you are redirected to a website with a captcha code. If you fall for this phishing scam, you could soon be inundated with spam emails, text messages, and malware downloads.
5. Spying and malware infections over hacked Wi-Fi networks
Accessing your bank account or email on public Wi-Fi is always a risk, as hackers can easily compromise unsecured networks. Whether it’s in an international airport or a local cafe, hackers can intercept personal information as you browse and shop online — and steal data like your login credentials or credit card information.
6. Zero-day bug exploits
A zero-day vulnerability is a software flaw that attackers discover before the vendor does. With no existing patch — i.e., “zero days” to fix the problem — any zero-day exploits are highly likely to succeed.
In December 2022, Techcrunch confirmed that Apple’s recent software update for iPhone had successfully fixed a zero-day security vulnerability that hackers actively exploited earlier in the year [*].
7. Hacked Apple IDs
Your Apple ID is the gateway to reams of sensitive personal information. Bad actors could use your ID to spy on your activity. They could take over your email account, infiltrate your iCloud account, view your photos and videos, and even access your GPS location in real-time if you have “Find my iPhone” enabled.
8. State-sponsored hackers
When cybercriminals have the support and immense resources of a nation-state, they can launch sophisticated cyberattacks. For example, the Pegasus virus can give hackers complete access to your smartphone’s camera, microphone, data, and communications history — even if you don't click on anything.
Israeli cyber-intelligence firm NSO Group created this sophisticated spyware to help government agencies track terrorists. But state-sponsored hackers have weaponized Pegasus to spy on high-profile targets, like politicians and journalists.
In July 2022, Apple launched the Lockdown Mode feature to protect high-profile targets like politicians and activists against such state-sponsored hackers [*].
9. Apps that install configuration profiles
System administrators use configuration profiles to remotely manage Wi-Fi settings, email, and passcodes. While this feature of Mobile Device Management (MDM) is standard practice in schools and workplaces, hackers can trick iPhone users into installing bogus profiles — opening a backdoor for hackers to access a victim's device.
How To Tell If Your iPhone Was Hacked
Knowing how someone can hack your iPhone is half the battle — understanding the implications once it has already happened is crucial. If you spot the warning signs early, you can stop hackers in their tracks before it’s too late.
Here are eight signs that someone has hacked your iPhone:
- Your phone is hotter than usual or runs out of battery quickly. An iPhone overheats when processes are running in the background. If you notice your battery draining faster than usual, dig deeper to find out why.
- You see unrecognized apps on your home screen. Don’t ignore any unfamiliar apps that you don’t remember installing. It’s best to investigate and remove anything suspicious.
- You’re locked out of your Apple ID. A clear red flag is if you receive a notification saying that your Apple ID was used to sign in on a new device, or if changes were made to your Apple ID or password.
- Your camera or microphone indicator lights turn on. An orange indicator means an app is using the microphone, while a green indicator is a sign that an app is using the camera.
- Your friends and family say they’re receiving “weird messages” from you. Some malware spreads by automatically sending suspicious links to everyone on your contact list. If people ask you about spammy communications they’ve received from your number, or if you spot odd messages in your “sent” folder, consider these red flags.
- Your iPhone performance has dropped. As hackers use malware to scan your iPhone for sensitive data, the surge in processing power leaves your phone sluggish. If you find it’s taking longer to load webpages, play videos, or open apps, the problem may be more insidious than a patchy internet connection.
- You see unauthorized purchases made via your Apple ID or linked credit card. Don’t ignore unfamiliar charges on your credit card statements or notifications from Apple Pay. Thieves may test out smaller purchases before draining your account as quickly as possible with larger fraudulent transactions.
- High data usage. Hidden software won’t just drain your battery or processing power — it could gobble your monthly data limit. Surprisingly high bills should never be ignored, as hackers might be using your iPhone without your knowledge.
Do You Think Your iPhone Has Been Hacked? Do This Right Away!
As soon as you realize your iPhone or Apple ID may have been compromised, you must act quickly to protect yourself from further damage.
Here are 12 security measures to take if you think someone hacked your iPhone:
1. Delete any unrecognized apps
First, look through your phone for apps that you don’t remember downloading.
- Go to “Settings” > “Apps.”
- Review the list, making sure to scroll to the bottom of the page. Some malicious apps hide inside folders.
- If you find any unfamiliar or unwanted apps, tap on them and select “Uninstall.”
2. Run an antivirus scan
An antivirus scan will help you identify any remaining malicious software and assess any issues on your iPhone. With regular checks, you can detect and isolate threats quickly in order to keep hackers at bay.
📚 Related: [Solved] How To Check For Viruses on An iPhone →
3. Update your Apple ID password
If you think hackers know your login credentials, you must change them immediately to prevent further issues. You can reduce the chances of future attacks if you create a stronger Apple ID password.
Here are some tips for creating a stronger password:
- Make sure your password contains at least 10 characters.
- Use a mix of both uppercase and lowercase letters.
- Use at least one number or symbol.
- Make sure you’re using unique passwords for all of your accounts.
Also, turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) to secure your login process; this will make it harder for hackers to get your passwords and access your iPhone.
4. Remove unrecognized devices
If you don't recognize any device that has access to your Apple account, remove it immediately. Removing older devices, like your old iPhone or iPad, is also good practice as it reduces the attack surface.
Here’s what to do:
- Sign in to appleid.apple.com, and then select “Devices.”
- Tap on any device name to view its information — like the model, serial number, OS version, etc. — and whether it's a trusted device that you can use to receive Apple ID verification codes.
- Select “Remove from account,” then review and approve the confirmation message to take a device off the list.
Be aware that any device you remove will no longer be able to display verification codes if you enable 2FA for your Apple ID. The device won't reappear in the list unless you sign in again.
5. Report the hack to Apple directly
If hackers compromise your iCloud or Apple ID, you can contact Apple directly to report the fraud.
Here are three ways to notify Apple:
- Send suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Call Apple at 800-275-2273 on a secure device.
- Visit an Apple store in person to speak with a customer support representative.
Apple will never call you for any reason, even to notify you of suspicious activity on your iPhone, unless you request a call first. Any unsolicited contact from someone claiming to be from Apple is most likely a scam.
6. Remove configuration profiles
If you suspect a hacker might have gained access to your device, check the list of configuration profiles, and remove any suspicious ones.
Here’s what to do:
- Connect the iPhone to a Mac with Apple Configurator using the USB cable that came with the device.
- If it’s the first time you’ve plugged the iPhone into this Mac, you’ll need to confirm that you can “Trust this computer” when the prompt appears.
- If the iPhone is locked, unlock it.
- Drag and drop a configuration profile on the selected devices or Blueprints.
- Select the profiles you want to remove. Then, Choose “Actions” > “Remove” > “Profiles.”
- Confirm that you want to remove the configuration profile by tapping on "Remove."
📚 Related: How To Remove a Hacker From Your Smartphone →
7. Cancel any linked credit cards
Thieves can use Apple Pay to make fraudulent purchases on your account. If your iPhone was hacked, you should contact your bank immediately.
Here’s what to do:
- Explain that your device has been compromised and there may be some fraudulent activity on your account.
- Ask the bank or credit card company to cancel the cards and issue new ones to a trusted address.
- Review your statements, and make a note of any suspicious activity.
- Notify the bank of any disputed transactions, and request that they reverse the charges.
8. Freeze your credit
If an identity thief gains access to your personally identifiable information (PII) on your iPhone, you could fall victim to various types of financial fraud. For example, thieves could:
- Apply for loans in your name.
- Open new credit accounts in your name.
- Request a replacement credit card, and change your address so that they (and not you) receive the new card.
Placing a credit freeze with all three major credit bureaus — Exerian, Equifax, and TransUnion — can help prevent scammers from opening new accounts on your credit file. To freeze your credit, you need to contact each credit bureau individually:
- Equifax: Place a credit freeze online or call 1-800-349-9960.
- Experian: Place a credit freeze online or call 1-888-397-3742.
- TransUnion: Place a credit freeze online or call 1-888-909-8872.
9. Check your apps’ permission settings
By managing apps' permissions, you can regain some control of what private information is shared about you online.
Here’s what to do:
- Go to “Settings” and then “Privacy” on your iPhone.
- View each category on the list to see which apps can access your data. For example, you might be sharing personal data through Location Tracking, Bluetooth, Contacts, Photos, and your Microphone.
- Decide whether to grant or revoke permissions as you see fit.
10. Clear your browser history and cache
Your iPhone stores cache data — content from websites — based on your browser history. The next time you visit the same site, cache storage helps the site load quickly, saving you time.
However, cache data can slow down your iPhone or even hide viruses and malware. Clear it out regularly to keep your iPhone secure and operating at peak performance.
Here’s what to do:
- Open the “Settings” app.
- Scroll down and tap on Safari.
- Scroll down again and go to “Clear History” and then “Website Data.”
- Tap on “Clear History and Data” to confirm.
📚 Related: How To Get Rid of Viruses on iPhones and iPads →
11. File an official identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
If you become a victim of identity theft after someone hacks your iPhone, you should notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Go to IdentityTheft.gov and follow the prompts to file your report. The FTC will provide a recovery plan and an official record that you can show to businesses to prove your identity was stolen.
You’ll need the following details to submit the report:
- Your full legal name
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number (SSN)
- Driver's license number
- Current address (and how long you've lived there)
- Phone number
- Email address
📚 Related: Have I Been Hacked? How To Recover From a Hack →
12. Factory reset your iPhone
In the worst-case scenario, you might have to completely wipe your iPhone and restore the original settings on your device. A factory restore erases the information and settings and installs the latest version of iOS.
It’s the last resort; but if all else fails, this is the best way to get a hacker out of your iPhone (but still can't guarantee that you'll remove all viruses).
First, get your device ready:
- Make sure that your Mac or PC is updated. If you're using iTunes, ensure you have the latest version.
- If you want to save the information on your iPhone first, make a backup.
- Go to “Settings” > “[your name]” > “Find My,” tap on “Find My iPhone”, and then switch the setting to “Off.”
- If your Mac has macOS Catalina or later, open the Finder app. If you’re using a PC or a Mac with macOS Mojave or earlier, open iTunes.
- Connect your iPhone to your computer.
- If a message asks for your device passcode or prompts you to “Trust This Computer,” follow the onscreen steps. You can get help from Apple if you forget your passcode.
- Select your device when it appears on your computer. Follow Apple’s guidance if your iPhone is unresponsive or your device doesn't appear on your computer.
- Select “Restore iPhone.” If you're signed into “Find My,” you must sign out before completing this step.
- Select “Restore” again to confirm. Your computer will erase the iPhone data and install the latest iOS software.
- After your iPhone restores the factory settings, it automatically restarts. Now you can set it up as new — free from hackers!
9 Ways To Protect Your iPhone From Getting Hacked
Your Apple ID is the gateway to your data, files, and other linked accounts — making it a prime target for cybercriminals. Preemptive action will help to secure your Apple ID and data from hacking threats.
Here are nine ways to protect your iPhone:
- Install iOS and software updates as soon as possible. Software updates often include security fixes that can protect your iPhone against emerging cybersecurity threats. If you're unsure if your iPhone has the latest updates installed, check by going to “Settings” > “General” > “Software Update”.
- Update your phone’s passcode and auto-lock. Set a complex passcode — Do not select an obvious code like ‘123456’ that someone might guess. Also, adjust the auto-lock setting to 30 seconds to reduce the risk of somebody accessing your phone soon after you set it down. Go to “Settings” > “Display & Brightness” > “Auto-Lock.”
- Set up multi-factor authentication (MFA) on your Apple ID. This added security layer means hackers can’t log in to your Apple services without you knowing. They’ll also need access to one of your Apple devices to access services. To enable this feature, go to “Settings” > “[Your Name]” > “Password & Security” > “Two-Factor Authentication.”
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when on public Wi-Fi networks. Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your privacy online. All Aura plans include a built-in VPN with military-grade encryption to keep your online activities hidden from hackers.
- Don’t jailbreak your phone or sideload apps. When you jailbreak your iPhone, you eliminate some of Apple's most critical security features. It's not a risk worth taking, as a single malware attack could expose your data and leave you open to financial damage and identity theft.
- Ignore and delete all suspicious text messages, emails, or calendar invites. Phishing emails and smishing texts via SMS or WhatsApp are among the most common types of fraud. Your iPhone could be hacked if you reply, call the numbers, or click on any malicious links.
- Enable the “Find My iPhone” app. This feature allows you to track your phone using any device with the “Find My” app installed. You can also use this app to remotely wipe your personal data after your phone is stolen or lost. To enable Find My, go to “Settings” > “[Your Name]” > “Find My,” then switch on the “Find My iPhone” button.
- Turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it. There’s more chance of your device being compromised on a public network. Smartphone users who leave their Bluetooth enabled in crowded public areas could unwittingly expose their devices to hackers.
- Consider Self-Destruct Mode. This option sets your iPhone to erase all data after 10 failed passcode attempts. Just be sure to perform regular backups, as this mode could backfire if your children get a hold of your phone!
📚 Related: Free VPN vs. Paid VPN — What's The Difference? →
The Bottom Line: Keep Your iPhone Safe From Hackers
Hackers can use malware or advanced programming tactics to exploit iOS vulnerabilities and gain remote access to your device. Others may use social engineering tactics like smishing to trick you into disclosing your login credentials.
Once hackers access your sensitive personal data, you could fall victim to identity theft or financial fraud. Knowing the signs of spam texts and avoiding clicking on links will help. But the emergence of zero-click exploits presents a new threat that is harder to prevent.
The best way to stay safe is to sign up for an all-in-one digital security solution.
With Aura, you get access to a suite of comprehensive online protection tools including:
- Antivirus software that safeguards your devices against malware, spyware, and ransomware threats — even when you and your family members download apps or browse online.
- A virtual private network (VPN) with military-grade encryption to keep your online activities hidden from hackers.
- A password manager that enables you to create and store unique, complex passwords for every account.
- 24/7 credit monitoring to inform you of any suspicious activity on your credit file. Aura delivers rapid fraud alerts 4x faster than other digital security apps.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy to cover eligible losses resulting from identity theft.