Protecting your iCloud data

iCloud hacks and leaks

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of news reports about iCloud accounts being hacked, with personal or sensitive data being stolen by hackers or released to the public, from private photos to bank details. With millions of people using iCloud, it’s a high-profile, high-value target for hackers - leading to the seemingly huge number of leaks.

Just a couple of days ago, there were reports of a major leak - a group claims to have access to 300 million iCloud accounts. While most security professionals don’t believe the claim to be legitimate, it’s worth going over some best practices to keep your iCloud data as secure as possible.

Below, you’ll find some steps for data security, most of which are somewhat universal, and worth putting into place even if you’re not specifically using iCloud.

Understanding how iCloud works

Firstly, it’s important to know what iCloud does, and how it works. As the name implies, iCloud is a Cloud storage service from Apple, provided as default on most of their products. The service stores data to protect it from accidental deletion, allowing users to recover their data if a device is lost, damaged or wiped.

However, many aren’t aware that iCloud automatically backs up certain data, including some which may be completely private - in particular, the service backs up photos and videos taken by iPhones, saving them all into an online photo library.

The service also automatically stores data from a number of different applications, some of which can potentially contain information that users don’t want to make public.

Keeping data stored in iCloud secure

In the first place, it’s worth considering what you actually want to keep in iCloud. It’s possible that the risk of leaks might outweigh the usefulness of having your photos backed up online - we’ll show you how to turn off the setting below. At the same time, you might not want certain apps to store their data in the Cloud - or might want to keep on storing everything there.

In all cases, you need a secure password for your iCloud account. Where accounts have been hacked, it’s almost invariably because the user’s password has been guessed or broken by a cybercriminal.

There’s a few different steps and approaches to creating a secure password. Firstly, it shouldn’t relate to personal information. Secondly, it shouldn’t be used anywhere else - many security breaches are the result of other sites having their password databases leaked. Thirdly, just substituting letters for numbers, or capitalising letters in a single word password is not secure - attacks often account for this when trying to break a password.

Typically, there’s two different approaches to creating secure passwords. Either use a long string of random text (keep in mind that just hitting keys on a keyboard won’t necessarily produce a random result), or use several unrelated words, creating a memorable but unique passphrase.

Most of the time, having a secure, unique password and updating it regularly is enough to ensure that iCloud data is safe. However, you might want to change your storage settings to remove data from the cloud, absolutely ensuring future safety.

Removing Data from iCloud

Turning off automatic iCloud backup is relatively easy. From your device, head into the Settings menu and scroll down to iCloud, tapping through. Below Storage, you’ll see a list of sliders and options. Here, you can turn off backup for a number of different apps.

To completely turn off automatic iCloud storage, scroll down to Backup and tap through. Tapping the slider will let you switch off backup entirely, though data will still remain in the Cloud. To turn off photo storage, just tap through to Photos, and turn all of the sliders off.

Deleting iCloud data is also simple if you’ve chosen to turn off automatic storage. Tap through to Storage, then again to Manage Storage. There, you’ll see the devices you use, and able to tap through to delete specific files from the Cloud, ensuring that they can’t be accessed in the worst case scenario.