What to do to safeguard your Apple device

For years, Apple was the gold standard when it came to cyber security while platforms like Microsoft were always under siege by cybercriminals. Consumers using Microsoft and similar products seemingly spent more time updating their cyber security features than operating the platforms based on their intended uses, such as for work and play.

But those days are dwindling fast. Trend Micro noted that Apple is being targeted more than ever before by hackers. So if you use an Apple product, it’s important that you understand how to protect yourself. Here’s what you need to know:

Apple is being targeted because it’s gaining marketshare

Ed Cabrera, vice president of cyber security strategy at Trend Micro, recently told TechNewsWorld that it’s not shocking brands that were once safe from most cyber-attacks, such as Apple, no longer are. Cybercriminals are sheep. They follow the herd. They go where consumers go, and in this case it’s to the maker of the iPhone.

“There’s much broader use of Apple products now,” Cabrera said. “The criminals go where consumers and enterprises are. If consumers and enterprises are utilizing more Apple products, then that’s where they’re going to focus their activity, because that’s where the money is going to be.”

If we crunch the numbers, we see that Cabrera is correct.

ExtremeTech reported in May 2016 that Microsoft dipped below the 90 percent threshold in OS marketshare for the first time in years. In April 2016, it dropped to 89.23 percent. It also noted that adoption of Windows 10 has waned, even as the company allowed for a free upgrade upon the platform’s entry into the market.

Meanwhile, IDC reported in a release last April that Apple’s Mac shipments rose nearly 6 percent year over year. And while, at least in the OS world, Microsoft still reigns supreme, Mac users are increasing. Furthermore, recent data released by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech showed that iOS usage increased by 7 percent year over year from 33.5 percent to 40.5 percent.

“The lack of a headphone jack has proved to be a non-issue for US iPhone consumers, as iPhone 7 was the top selling device in the three months ending October 2016, achieving 10.6 percent of smartphone sales, despite not being available for the full three month period,” said Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel.ComTech.

Patrick Wardle, a former U.S. National Security Agency employee, also noted Mac’s increase in marketshare as a reason the company is now being targeted more often.

“Windows was really insecure for a long time, and Mac didn’t have a lot of marketshare so they weren’t as much of a target,” said Wardle, according to International Business Times. “If I’m going to hack an organization’s devices now, it’s going to be Apple. They’re a security soft target.”

By the numbers, Apple’s vulnerabilities have increased

Trend Micro noted in its 2016 roundup report that the number of vulnerabilities in Apple’s products increased from 33 in 2015 to 88 in 2016. On the flip side, Microsoft’s vulnerabilities dropped from 175 in 2015 to 93 in 2016.

In the 2017 report that looked at the year to come, Trend Micro asserted the increase in Apple smartphone and desktop vulnerabilities would continue, arising from additional software flaws, possibly in the form of what are known as “exploit kits.”

Exploit kits are basically tool kits, according to Trend Micro that compromise users in four steps:

A hacker lures an unsuspecting user to a site with an exploit kit.

This kit explores the software installed on the device used to access the site.

The kit exploits a vulnerability within that device and infects it with malware or ransomware. In 2015, the most popular exploit kit called Angler began the trend of infecting devices with ransomware.

Trend Micro noted two reasons Apple is being targeted more: The first we already mentioned – The company’s marketshare is growing, and will continue to do so as it attempts to gain users in Asian markets such as China and India. The second reason hackers are turning to Apple is because the business is beginning to drop IT support for many of its older iOS platforms. Without updated software, these devices are essentially defenseless.

How can you keep your systems safe?

If you have an Apple product, this article has likely caught your attention. And that’s a good thing. You need to keep your devices safe. Here’s how:

1. Act like you’re using a Microsoft product

How do you normally act when you use a Microsoft phone or computer? You hopefully avoid clicking on suspicious links and posting personal information online, and use strong passwords. Take the same approach when using an Apple product. While simple, this basic step is critical to not only protect your device but also your life.

2. Always update your operating system

In 2015, Zerodium, an exploit acquisition program, successfully infiltrated Apple’s iOS 9 operating system, according to ZDNet. This proved that Apple’s products, despite their reputation as being impenetrable to cybercriminals, could be hacked. Remember to update your systems. Updates add neat features to your hardware, and they also upgrade pertinent security features.

3. Take advantage of the “find my iPhone feature”

MacWorld makes a great, potentially underrated suggestion: Turn on the “find my iPhone feature.” If you lose your phone, you can log into it from another iOS device and wipe your personal data clean.

4. Activate the “erase data” feature in the settings

This suggestion is a bit risky, but hear us out. When you turn on the “erase data” feature on your iPhone, the device automatically erases all of your personal data after 10 failed logins.

We’ll safely assume that most smartphone users have accidently entered their passcode incorrectly more than once while trying to log in. This typically prompts their phone to warn them that if they continue to fail, it will delete their personal information.

Here’s our suggestion: When you turn the “erase data” feature on, you can quickly delete your data if you know your information could be compromised. However, to ensure you don’t inadvertently delete the data yourself, back up your information in the iCloud.

5. Set a firmware password

If you want to beef up your Mac’s security, set up a firmware password. Firmware passwords can protect you from non-remote hackers, such as a criminal who may physically steal your computer.

Apple’s website describes how to set up your firmware password.

6. Use a VPN

We typically suggest not using public Wi-Fi, but we understand this is often inevitable. If you have to use it, set up a Virtual Private Network, commonly known as a VPN. This will better safeguard your hardware.

To set up a VPN, download any one of the many third-party apps, such as Cloak or ExpressVPN. While it may take a bit of time to set this option up, it’s relatively easy to use.

7. Always lock your screen

Always use a long, complicated password on your phone’s lock screen. This password shouldn’t be “1,2,3,4,5.” This is much too easy to figure out, and will likely be one of the first guesses a hacker takes. It’s best to use a complex password with an assortment of numbers. We also suggest that you avoid swipe passwords, which are much easier to hack.

Furthermore, we suggest setting a “time out” for your lock screen. This means if your phone sits inactive for a certain period of time, it automatically activates the lock screen. This can be helpful if you accidently forget your device in a public setting.

We’ve discussed a lot, so let’s recap. In the coming months and years, Trend Micro, as well as other experts, believe cybercriminals will continue to succeed when hacking Apple’s products for a variety of reasons. Therefore, if you regularly use iOS or Mac products, you need to take the correct steps to defend both your device and you. We outlined a few tips and tricks here, but there are many more you should include.

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