Is iCloud Safe? Everything You Need to Know

Once you understand how iCloud works and the iCloud security and privacy settings, you can choose what data you feel comfortable storing online.

Do you know all the privacy and security features the iCloud has? If you haven’t paid much attention, you may want to rethink how you use the iCloud. Understanding how this digital storage space works will give you a better idea of what you may or may not want to store online, especially since not all your data will be stored on Apple’s servers. A common question is: Is iCloud safe? That depends on personal preferences and how the data is stored. Apple has many measures in place to ensure iCloud security and iCloud privacy but you may decide that some information is better kept on your phone instead of synched with the iCloud. It’s always a good idea to take extra steps to protect your data on your device, too, so make sure you’re taking advantage of these iPhone privacy settings ASAP.

What is the iCloud?

The iCloud is an online storage space that functions as a digital storage locker where Apple users can store or back up all or some of their data on their device(s) to a secure server. Depending on the type of information, it will either be stored on Apple’s servers or through third-party servers. Each time you connect to your device, it will sync and update all your information.

iCloud encryption

Data stored in the iCloud is encrypted. Encryption means that for the information to be accessed, you need a key. Depending on what type of information it is, according to Apple, “your iCloud data may be stored using third-party partners’ servers—such as Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform—but these partners don’t have the keys to decrypt your data stored on their server.” But not all encryption is created equal. End-to-end encryption is the safest and most secure way of ensuring your data is protected because it can only be decrypted or accessed by the sender and recipient. Data that is considered more sensitive, such as health or payment information, has end-to-end encryption offering extra layers of security. “Some services, such as iMessage use end-to-end encryption which is even more secure because even Apple can’t decrypt that data,” shares Dave Hatter, a Cybersecurity Consultant for inTrust IT, an IT support and cybersecurity company, says, End-to-end encryption requires turning on two-factor authentication (2FA), which is a layered process where you receive a one-time code sent to another device that you have to input as well as your passcode. Protecting your information is important, so consider these cybersecurity secrets to help keep your data safe.

What is iCloud storage?

iCloud storage is for Apple users that create and set up an iCloud account. Each user receives 5 GB of free storage space to store photos, videos, text messages, documents, and more. Users can also use the iCloud as a place to back up their devices, whether it’s a MacBook, iPad, or iPhone, where everything is stored online instead of a hard drive. It’s also convenient to have all your devices synced to the iCloud so you can access them whenever and wherever. If 5 GB isn’t enough for you, you can subscribe for more. Between photos and apps, storage can quickly run out on your phone so you’ll want to know these tricks to create more space.

What is iCloud backup?

iCloud backup is all the information stored on your devices, such as your iPhone, iPad, or iPod that is synced and kept in the iCloud. Users can choose to do a full backup onto the iCloud or can choose what they want to have backed up, such as files, photos, videos, text messages, health information, and device settings. iCloud backup is set to automatically backup all files daily when the device is connected to a power source and Wi-Fi.

How does the iCloud work?

The iCloud is conveniently designed so all your Apple devices can be connected to each other. Data that is stored in the iCloud can be accessed from different gadgets, it’s like an external hard drive but instead of connecting it to your computer or phone, you connect digitally. iCloud makes it easy to access your documents, photos, videos, and more, regardless of the device they are initially stored on. For example, if you have photos stored on your iPhone but want to view them on your iPad, as long as your devices are synced, you will be able to see your photos on your iPad.

Is the iCloud safe?

iCloud security

iCloud security is designed to keep your data protected. Apple has many security layers incorporated into their devices but it’s important to understand that online servers function distinctly in part because Apple depends on other companies. There could be a potential risk of information being exposed because “[…] in more open systems such as clouds (where various third parties host data), the surface through which an attacker can aim to penetrate the system is invariably greater; which makes it inherently less secure,” explains Michael Huth, PhD, professor at Imperial College London and co-founder and CTO of Xayn. But users can take some security measures to protect their data stored in the iCloud, “Enable two-factor authentication (2FA), also known as two-step verification or multi-factor authentication [MFA] on your iCloud account. In general, you should enable MFA anywhere and everywhere possible,” Hatter says. Implementing these measures is important and can help prevent hackers from accessing your account even though, “virtually anything can be hacked if the attackers have the right skills, resources and enough time. Additionally, there is always the opportunity for human error, including things like misconfiguration that leads to leaked data,” Hatter explains. But Hatter also puts things in perspective, “That said, Apple has proven over time to be very privacy and security conscious and I have fewer concerns about sharing data with Apple than most of their competitors.

iCloud privacy

Apple puts privacy first, including ensuring sufficient iCloud privacy and is known to have some of the most private settings compared to other tech companies. Hatter says, “Of all the tech titans, Apple is by far the most privacy-friendly.” Because Apple relies on other companies’ servers, Huth explains, “Third parties will only ever see encrypted, random data without any associated metadata. Since this uses strong encryption (the Advanced Encryption Standard with 128-bit keys), and since Apple holds those keys, privacy can be maintained against those third parties—but not against Apple.” Although Apple may put privacy first, there can be limitations with iCloud privacy when it comes to the law. Huth explains, “Apple will still be able to learn all the associated metadata—for example when which types of data are stored to the iCloud, retrieved from there, or synchronized with other user devices. While we may trust Apple to hold such information, law enforcement has recourse (think subpoenas) to demand such information from Apple.” If there is information you wouldn’t want someone else to get access to, it’s likely best not to have it on your device. It’s a good idea to implement this safety trick when using public Wi-Fi, especially when you’re not at home.

iCloud security tips

It’s important to have iCloud security measures in place to safeguard all your information stored online. Hatter recommends, “Ensure that you keep your Apple devices updated with the latest software updates from Apple.” When and where you access the iCloud makes a difference, too, with how secure the iCloud is, “Only access iCloud from a trusted network, not open Wi-Fi networks, and even better, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN),” explains Hatter. Updating your settings is also important, “Users should enable encryption on their Apple devices so that data stored on these devices is encrypted with user-specific keys by default,” Huth recommends.

You’ll also want to know the top mobile security threats of 2021.

Sources:

  • Dave Hatter, a Cybersecurity Consultant for inTrust IT
  • Michael Huth, PhD, professor at Imperial College London and co-founder and CTO of Xayn.

Lauren David
Lauren David is a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, who is now based in Basque Country, Spain. She writes about food, gardening, travel, and lifestyle. Her work has been featured in Huffpost Personal, Greatist, Trivago Magazine and more. When she's not at her desk, you'll find her in the vegetable garden, improvising in the kitchen, making herbal infusions or planning her next outdoor project.