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No major malware for iOS in 10 years

In 10 years, iOS malware has been mostly minor, with any outbreaks mostly related to jailbroken devices, short-lived App Store or other breaches, with Apple for the most part quick to issue fixes to keep users safe.

Well known Mac blogger, journalist and author, Kirk McElhearn has written about the stellar security of iOS for Internet security company Intego in its Mac security blog, dubbed “The iPhone at 10: Still No Major Malware.”

It’s true – in a world of ever scarier Windows-based ransomware, and regular reports of attacks on Android devices and apps, McElhearn notes that “one of the biggest successes of the iPhone is its security".

There are no potentially performance sapping anti-virus apps to install, update and worry about, either.

Of course, that’s not to say iOS hasn’t had its issues. After all, with more than 200 million iPhones sold “in the past year alone", and more than a billion iOS devices sold over the last decade, iOS has definitely been a target – and while cyber criminals have had some success, it has all been very temporary.

iTWire’s Ray Shaw put together a comprehensive article in 2015 noting a range of iOS malware issues, including state-sponsored malware that attacked iPhones through hacked charging devices, malware that affects jailbroken devices and more.

There was another article that attempted to portray iOS as a safety disaster following a corrupted version in China of the software for Macs used to create apps for iPhones and iPads, but as McElhearn notes further below, “there has not been a single case of malware that was more than just a flash in the pan".

McElhearn also noted the various instances in which malware has been able to temporarily affect iOS, which includes the aforementioned jailbreaking scenario, malware that requires several steps a user must perform before an infection can take place, malware that installed via an app on a Windows PC, enterprise provisioned apps, or malware that relies upon older versions of iOS.

He then lists five ways that iOS is currently protecting users from malware, which are protections within the App Store, Code Signing, Sandboxing, Privileges and iOS Updates, and goes into detail on each topic.

One of the major ways that Apple protects users is by having regular iOS updates that end-users can install on the day of availability, leading to a scenario where, at time of publication, 86% of iOS devices are running the latest iOS, as opposed to Android, where only a tiny percentage of users are on the very latest Android 7.1.x update.

McElhearn lists the bottom line that “no operating system is 100% secure”, but that Apple has done “a great job of protecting iOS users, and their data".

He notes that phishing scams are likely the most serious threats to iOS users, and that after 10 years of the iPhone, as noted above, “there has not been a single case of malware that was more than just a flash in the pan".

So, it’s clear that end-users must still maintain vigilance with iOS — and any operating system — and avoid going to places on the Internet your grandmother wouldn’t want you to visit, use very strong passwords, keep apps and your OS updated, stay away from jailbreaking and side-loadable enterprise app hacks, be wary of phishing scams, always use your own phone charger, avoid complacency and maintain very regular back-ups of your devices in case anything does actually ever go wrong.

It’s also absolutely worth reading McElhearn’s article in full while celebrating the fact that, for the absolutely vast majority of end users, iOS has over the last 10 years been the safest operating system most of us have ever experienced – and long may that continue!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.