The iOS 14.4 update has brought with it a host of new fixes, some of which have left security experts and tech outlets feeling uneasy. We’ll be taking a look at those particular vulnerabilities, what they mean, and why they got people worried.
At the same time, we’ll be diving into more consistent methods of keeping hackers at bay, such as securing your iPhone with a VPN. If you’re not keen on researching providers for a few hours, here’s a list of all the best iOS VPNs you can keep around for later.
It goes without saying that you should update to iOS 14.4 as soon as possible, and here’s why.
Hackers Actively Exploited iOS Security Flaws
So why have these security holes left people more concerned than usual? Well, it’s mostly due to the fact that Apple rarely uses language such as “Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited” in their support documentation.
The lack of details on the matter is definitely not a good sign. How many devices have been compromised? What kind of damage did the attackers get away with? Until Apple comes out with a proper statement, all we can do is look at the limited information we have.
First off, a kernel issue that allowed hackers to elevate access privileges for malicious apps. Simply put, hackers could use the exploit to have their apps do things they aren’t supposed to. You know how some apps ask for permission to access your contact info, location, and so on? Well, thanks to this vulnerability, hackers could skip over all that and gain access to critical data on your iPhone or iPad.
The other two issues affected Safari’s browser engine, WebKit. Both issues allowed hackers to take control of the device by executing malicious code on specific websites. Yes, without the need to bait users into downloading suspicious attachments or tapping on malicious links, like in a standard phishing attack.
Why You Need an iOS VPN for Extra Security
Keeping your iPhone updated is a good way to avoid falling victim to cyber attacks like those described above. However, despite Apple devices having better security on average, there are still some things that could slip through the cracks. Thankfully, getting an iPhone VPN is an excellent first step towards keeping your data safe from hackers.
For one, you’re actually well-protected on unsecured (read: password-less) public Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi is cool and all, but hackers have the most to gain out of it. You run the risk of falling to a man-in-the-middle attack, seeing as the usual Wi-Fi encryption isn’t there to secure your network activity.
Not that it’s much better when it is. Even the latest Wi-Fi encryption standard is vulnerable to attacks that allow hackers to steal the network password. Once they get their hands on it, it’s easy to snoop on your online traffic and extract valuable data.
Of course, most cyber criminals don’t bother with these methods and just go for the classic “Evil Twin” attack. Essentially, they create a fake public hotspot that mimics networks run by legit businesses. The average user won’t be able to tell the difference, especially since some hackers go the extra mile to mask their presence.
In any case, all of these attacks can be prevented with an iPhone VPN. They encrypt (i.e. garble) your network data before it leaves your phone or tablet, making it impossible to read by unauthorized outsiders. That includes any Internet providers trying to sell your browsing and location data to advertising networks.
What Else Are iPhone VPNs Capable Of?
We can’t ignore the other major reason people use VPNs. And that is to get around unfair geo-blocks and Internet censorship. How do they accomplish that? Well, any online service can detect your real life location by checking your IP address – which reveals your country, city, and even ZIP code.
Now, when you connect to any VPN server, your true IP is masked and “replaced” with the server’s own address. The result? Your network-facing location is now the same as the server you’ve connected to. Any service you use will believe you’re located in the country of your choice.
Trying to watch Netflix UK shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as South American user? No problem. Want to avoid censorship in Russia, China, or other restrictive countries – whether as a visitor or as a citizen? A VPN is your best bet.
Are Free iPhone VPNs Safe?
You get outliers like ProtonVPN which are absolutely safe, mostly because they can lean on their ProtonMail funding and subscriptions to support the service. But for the most part, free VPNs should be avoided. Here’s why:
- It costs money to run a free VPN. Since they can’t rely on subscription money to keep the lights on, most providers resort to selling user data to third parties. Pretty much contrary to what VPNs are supposed to do – i.e. protect your data from snoopers.
- Even among the top 20 free VPNs on the App Store, most of the providers still don’t bother following Apple’s Review guidelines. 60% of free VPNs were also found to be secretly based in China – which isn’t exactly reassuring, considering the country’s track record of mass surveillance and censorship.
Aside from the security concerns above, free VPNs just can’t match up with subscription-based providers in terms of performance. Expect slow speeds, server congestion, and prohibitive data caps from most free providers out there. After all, they can’t exactly afford top-of-the-line equipment, pay their employees, and turn a profit without a stable income.