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6 Tips to Improve iPhone Security

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iphone security

Last updated April 2014

When we talk about iPhone security, we're not talking about quite the same thing as security on a desktop or laptop computer. Sure, everyone wants to keep their data safe from people who they don't want to have access to it, but traditional computer security concerns like anti-virus software aren't really issues for iPhone and iPod touch owners.

Perhaps the most pressing concern when it comes to iPhone security isn't electronic, but physical: theft. Apple's devices are attractive targets for thieves and are often stolen; so much so that as much as 18% of grand larcenies in New York City involve iPhone theft.

But just because theft is a major concern doesn't mean it's the only aspect of iPhone security you should care about. What follows are some tips that every iPhone and iPod touch user should follow:

1. Prevent Theft

With theft being the biggest security threat to iPhone users, you need to take steps to keep your iPhone safe and make sure it stays yours. Check out these anti-theft tips for ideas on how to stay safe.

2. Set a Passcode 

If your iPhone is stolen, you better make sure that the thief can't access your data. One of the best, and easiest, ways to that is my turning on your iPhone's built-in Passcode feature. Learn more about the Passcode, including how to set one and what it controls. You can set a passcode after its stolen using Find My iPhone (more on that in a minute), but it's better to get in the good security habit ahead of time.

3. Use Touch ID

If your device sports Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner (as of this writing, only the iPhone 5S has it), use it. Having to scan your fingerprint to unlock your device is much stronger security than a four-digit passcode that you can forget or that can be guessed by a computer with enough time.

4. Enable Find My iPhone

If your iPhone does get stolen, Find My iPhone may be the way you get it back. This free feature of iCloud users the phone's built-in GPS to pinpoint its location on a map so you (or, much safer and better, the police!) can track it to its current location. It's a great tool for finding lost devices, too. Here's what you need to know when it comes to Find My iPhone:

5. Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is a core part of how we secure desktop and laptop PCs, but you don't hear too much about iPhones getting viruses. But does that mean that it's safe to skip using antivirus on an iPhone? The answer, right now, is yes.

6. Encrypt Backups

If you sync your iPhone with your computer, the data from your phone is also stored on your desktop or laptop. That means that the data is potentially accessible by people who can get at your computer. Secure that data by encrypting those backups. This prevents someone who doesn’t know your password from getting access to your data by using your computer.

Do this in iTunes when you sync your iPhone or iPod touch. On the main sync page, in the Options section below the picture of your device, you’ll see a checkbox called "Encrypt iPhone backup" or "Encrypt iPod backup."

Check that box and set a password for the backup. Now, if you want to restore from that backup, you’ll need to know the password. Otherwise, no getting at that data.

Optional: Security Apps

There aren’t a lot of apps that will improve your iPod touch or iPhone security right now—though that may change in the future.

As iPhone security becomes a bigger issue, expect to see things like VPN clients and antivirus suites for the iPhone or iPod touch. When you do see them, though, be skeptical. Apple's design for the iOS is very different than, say, Microsoft's for Windows and it's much more secure. Security is unlikely to become as big a problem on iOS as it is on other OSes.

It’s also important to note that some tools available at the App Store that appear to perform heavy-duty security functions – like fingerprint or eye scans – don’t actually perform those tests. Instead, they use another security protocol that they disguise by appearing to perform those scans. Before you buy security apps at the App Store, make sure you’re clear on what the app does and doesn’t do.

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