Can iPhones Be Hacked? Secure Your iOS Device in 2024

Updated on: May 23, 2024
Fact Checked by Hazel Shaw
Kate Davidson Kate Davidson
Updated on: May 23, 2024

iOS devices (like iPhones and iPads) have some of the best security protections of any device in 2024, but you can still get hacked while using them. iOS has some really impressive built-in protections — it can only run authorized apps from Apple’s App Store, it uses sandboxing which prevents any apps from making changes to your operating system, and it notifies you about all of the privacy permissions that you’ve granted to your apps.

But there are still a ton of risks facing iPhone users. Downloading malware on a jailbroken device isn’t the only way to get hacked on iOS. Even users with fully secured and updated iPhones can fall prey to phishing attacks, unsafe Wi-Fi networks, deceptive configuration profiles, sketchy apps, and more.

The best way to keep your data safe on iOS is to download a good security app like Norton, which can block phishing sites, flag unsafe Wi-Fi networks, and notify you if your information is leaked to the dark web. There are also many simple things you can do yourself to keep your iPhone, your apps, and your browsing as secure as possible.

Try Norton Now (60 Days Risk-Free)

How Is It Possible to Hack an iPhone?

iPhones can’t be hacked by malware files like trojans, ransomware, and rootkits — their operating systems are severely limited, so you can only download tested apps from the Apple App Store, and even then those apps can’t make any changes to your operating system.

However, it’s still possible for hackers to invade your device and access your data on iOS. Here’s how:

Jailbreaking

Jailbreaking is the process of altering iOS to allow third-party apps and even different operating systems to run on your iPhone.

This process is extremely risky for 3 reasons:

  1. It prevents you from updating iOS (iOS updates contain important security patches).
  2. It allows you to download dangerous third-party apps which can be malware.
  3. Many jailbreaking kits are actually malware.

If you want a mobile device that runs third-party apps, just get an Android. Jailbreaking your iOS device isn’t worth it.

Phishing & Smishing

Phishing sites are imitations of real sites, which are designed to trick users into giving away their login credentials and personal information.

Phishing links are sent with deceptive emails, text messages, and pop-ups that contain urgent and deceptive language to trick users into giving their information away (phishing attacks frequently imitate banks, delivery services, social media sites, government agencies, and much more).

Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

Unsecured Wi-Fi networks can be used to intercept your browsing data, steal your login credentials, spy on your device, or alter your communications before your data gets to its intended recipient.

Just like phishing attacks, Wi-Fi hacks occur after your data leaves your device, so they can’t be prevented by iOS’s built-in protections.

Unsafe Apps

Malicious apps can still sneak through Apple’s censors, despite Apple’s App Store being rigorously protected by Apple’s security team.

Many apps will ask for permission to access as much of your data as possible for the purpose of harvesting your information — just like spyware on Windows and macOS.

You also need to watch out for fleeceware apps, which provide basic functions while charging an exorbitant price. Usually fleeceware apps lure users in with free trials, social media marketing, and deceptive language, and then begin charging expensive monthly or even weekly subscription costs.

Configuration Profiles/Mobile Device Management (MDM)

Configuration profiles (also called MDM profiles) change specific settings in iOS such as security, app usage, and network settings. They’re usually given to employees on company-owned devices, but they can be used for malicious purposes too.

Hackers try to convince users to download and run malicious configuration profiles on their devices — if they succeed, they can access a user’s data, re-route all of their web traffic to a compromised VPN server, change privacy settings, or even lock users out of their devices.

Zero-Day Attacks

Zero-day attacks target software and OS vulnerabilities in order to give hackers access to user devices. They’re called zero-days because developers aren’t aware of the vulnerabilities in their software — they have had zero-days to fix them. Zero-day attacks are extremely rare, and they are almost exclusively deployed in high-profile attacks between hackers, intelligence agencies, governments, and major corporations.

How to Fix a Hacked iPhone

If you think you’ve been hacked, you should follow all these steps (except the final step — only reset your iPhone if you absolutely have to).

1. Install an iOS Security App

A good iOS security app like Norton can protect you from unsafe websites, block access to unsecured Wi-Fi networks, filter out smishing texts, and more.

Most iOS security apps don’t scan for malware, but the best ones will scan your device for security issues such as outdated software and prompt you to fix these issues to prevent cyberattacks.

I recommend 3 apps with extra features like secure VPNs and password managers, which can further protect your device and data from hacks.

40% discount on Norton Mobile Security!
Discount applied automatically at checkout.

2. Remove Any Configuration Profiles

Configuration files enable apps like VPNs to make important changes to your device. In most cases, configuration files are legitimate. However, malicious or buggy apps could convince a user to install configuration files which enable hackers to control the user’s device and steal data.

To remove configuration files, go to your iPhone’s Settings app. Select General, then VPN & Device Management. Any installed configuration profiles will be listed below. Tap Remove Profile to remove them from your device.

3. Check Your App Privacy Settings & Your Subscriptions

First, you should look for apps that have permissions you don’t want them to have. For example, gaming apps might have full access to your location data.

On iOS 15.2 and later, go to Settings, tap on Privacy, and select App Privacy Report. On earlier iOS versions, tap Settings > Privacy — this will list out all of the different permissions that your apps can access.

Next, look at your current subscriptions and check for apps that are charging unnecessarily expensive subscription prices (these apps are known as “fleeceware”).

Go to Settings, select your Apple ID, and tap Subscriptions. This will show you a list of all your active and expired subscriptions. Look for app subscriptions that charge a lot of money and unsubscribe unless you need them.

4. Uninstall Unsafe or Suspicious Apps

First, identify any apps on your device that you do not recognise. If you don’t recognise them, there’s a chance they could be malicious.

You can uninstall apps on your iPhone by long-pressing an app in your Home screen and selecting the option for Remove App. On older iOS versions, a small “x” will appear on the top left of the app icon, and you should simply tap the x to uninstall the app.

5. Run a Data Breach Scan

Haveibeenpwned.com is a good free data breach scanner that can alert you if your email has been leaked in a data breach.

But many iOS security apps also have built-in breach monitors — Norton for iOS offers live dark web monitoring to give you live updates if your data is discovered in a dark web forum or private data breach.

6.  Change Your Passwords

There may be a few reasons why you need to change your passwords. If your passwords are too short and simple, too old, or if you regularly reuse the same password, you must look at changing your passwords to be more complex, newer, and unique — and password managers make it much easier to do this.

There are many good password managers for iOS, such as 1Password and Dashlane, which offer more advanced features compared to iOS’s built-in Passwords feature.

Important: If you think any of your account logins may have been breached in a phishing attack, a social media scam, or a data breach, then you should change as many of your passwords as possible.

7. Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

2FA protects your logins by requiring a second piece of verification (along with your password) before you can log into an account. SMS codes, time-based one-time passcodes (TOTPs), biometric scans, and USB tokens are common 2FA tools. Password managers like 1Password and Dashlane can help you set up and generate TOTP 2FA for compatible online accounts.

You can also enable 2FA for your Apple ID. First, select your Apple ID > Password & Security. Tap Turn On Two-Factor Authentication and enter your phone number. Apple will send TOTP codes to that number whenever you access your Apple ID from a new device.

8. Keep Your iPhone Updated

It’s important to keep your device updated, as the latest updates include important security patches that help to prevent emerging threats, including exploit attacks.

Turning on automatic updates is the easiest way to keep your iPhone safe. You can schedule automatic updates to happen whenever is most convenient for you, such as at 2am, when you’re less likely to be using your phone.

On your iPhone, go to Settings > General > Software Update, and select both Download iOS Updates and Install iOS Updates.

9. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

VPNs are essential privacy tools in 2024 — they help to protect your data when connecting to unsecured networks (like public Wi-Fi hotspots). If you connect your iOS device to an unsecured public Wi-FI hotspot, a VPN will stop hackers from being able to view your activity by encrypting your browsing data (so prying eyes cannot see what you are doing online).

There are some pretty good antivirus programs with bundled VPNs, but the best VPNs for iOS are all standalone apps like ExpressVPN.

10. Reset Your iPhone

First, make sure you have your contacts and other important info backed up to iCloud. Select your Apple ID, then iCloud, and toggle iCloud Backup (or you can choose to go through the app list and only toggle the apps whose data you want to save).

Go to Settings > General, and select Transfer or Reset iPhone. Select Reset, reset just your network and privacy settings, then see if your device is behaving normally again.

If you’re still having issues, simply select Erase All Content and Settings.

Best iOS Security Apps for Preventing Hacks in 2024

Quick summary of the best iOS security apps in 2024:

  • 🥇1. Norton Mobile Security — Best overall iOS security app in 2024 with anti-phishing protection + SMS scam filter.
  • 🥈2. TotalAV Mobile Security — Most intuitive iOS security app with device tracking and data breach monitoring.
  • 🥉3. McAfee Mobile Security — Excellent anti-phishing protection for iOS with no impact on system resources.

iPhones & NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware

Recently, NSO Group’s Pegasus iOS spying software has garnered attention due to allegations of its use in the global surveillance of journalists, attorneys, and activists. The tool was created by the Israel-based NSO Group, seemingly to assist anti-terrorism departments and intelligence organizations in monitoring violent offenders.

Pegasus leveraged vulnerabilities in iOS that have now been patched in recent updates. These vulnerabilities allowed bad actors to access all information on your device, including encrypted messaging apps. This intrusive technology was used by unethical regimes to monitor activists and reporters, and the likelihood of your device being targeted by it is extremely low.

Pegasus relies on zero-day exploits to access user devices, meaning it can’t be widely used without Apple’s developers detecting and patching the vulnerabilities it exploits. Advanced zero-day attacks like Pegasus are generally aimed at specific individuals, like UAE journalists reporting human rights abuses, Mexican environmental activists battling drug cartels, or lawyers in Jordan taking legal action against torture by the government. For the average user, the risk of being targeted by such attacks is relatively low. However, it’s still essential to maintain good cybersecurity practices and stay vigilant to protect your devices and personal information.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if my iPhone has been hacked?

There are several signs that your device may have been hacked — your iPhone display may change, you may have new apps on your device, or your device might run really slowly or overheat.

The only way to install malware directly onto an iPhone is by jailbreaking it — if somebody else has access to your iPhone, they could have jailbroken your device and changed your operating system. If you think your device has been jailbroken, take it to a professional technician.

Most iPhone hacks are things like phishing attacks, data breaches, fleeceware apps, or unsafe Wi-Fi hacks. It can be hard to tell if your information has been compromised — I’ve given instructions above with some simple methods to keep your iPhone safe. Plus, iOS security apps like Norton can protect you from the vast majority of iOS attacks in 2024.

What do I do if my iPhone has been hacked?

It depends. If your iPhone has been jailbroken and had malware installed on it, you should factory reset it and restore your original iOS installation. But if you’ve simply installed some suspicious apps or downloaded an unsafe configuration profile, you can fix your device really easily. Uninstalling apps and configuration profiles only takes a few taps.

However, if you think hackers have gotten access to your login credentials, you’ll want to follow my step-by-step instructions above to secure your accounts. You should always be running 2-factor authentication on as many accounts as possible (which is much easier with a secure password manager), and you should protect yourself against future attacks using a good iOS security app like Norton.

Are iPhones more secure than Android?

Yes — iPhones have a much more restricted operating system than Android, which prevents users from downloading third-party apps or accessing their system files. Android devices provide much greater flexibility, which can be really great for developers and users that like to customize their devices. But iOS is much harder to hack than Android (although iPhones are still vulnerable to a range of cyberattacks).

Which iPhone has the best security?

Any iPhone that has a fully updated version of iOS running is highly secure. But note that since iOS 16 was implemented, older iPhones are no longer receiving regular security updates. I’ve given instructions for installing iOS updates above, and all of the best iOS security apps are compatible with a wide range of iPhones and iOS versions. Norton Mobile Security runs on iOS versions 14.0 and later, so iPhone 6s and beyond are compatible with it.

Best Antiviruses for iPhone in 2024 — Final Score:

Our Rank
Our Score
Best Deal
1
9.8
save 58%
2
9.4
save 84%
3
9.4
save $100
The listings featured on this site are from companies from which this site receives compensation and some are co-owned by our parent company. This influence: Rank and manner in which listings are presented. 
Learn more
About the Author
Kate Davidson
Kate Davidson
Chief Editor
Updated on: May 23, 2024

About the Author

Kate Davidson is a Chief Editor at SafetyDetectives. She has many years of experience as a journalist and communications professional, and has worked for media organizations, government agencies, and NGOs in multiple countries. Kate has always had a deep interest in cybersecurity, which has — together with her passion for crafting quality content — allowed her to bring complex topics about antiviruses, password managers, and overall online security closer to our readers. In her spare time, Kate enjoys spending time with her family, cooking Italian food, and doing yoga by the sea.