How I Turned an iPhone Hack Against Myself

I recently fell victim to a phishing attack that gave the attacker access to my email, social media, and bank accounts. Here’s how it happened and what I did to fix it.

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In early 2016, I decided to give up my iPhone for a year. I sold my 6S Plus, got a basic Samsung Galaxy S7 and vowed to use it as my only phone for 12 months. It was a great experiment, but it didn’t last long. By the end of the year, I was back to using an iPhone.

There were a few factors that led to my switch back, but the biggest one was that I missed having a good camera. The iPhone’s camera is simply better than most Android phones. And as someone who likes to take photos, that was a dealbreaker.

But there was another factor that played into my decision to go back to Apple: security.

The Hack

It was a simple phishing attack. I received an email that looked like it was from Apple, telling me that my icloud account had been hacked and that I needed to change my password immediately. The email had all the usual hallmarks of a phishing attack: poor grammar, poor design, and a sense of urgency. But I was caught off guard because it looked so real. I clicked the link in the email and entered my password on the fake Apple website. And just like that, my phone was hacked.

The hacker had access to all my contacts, photos, and messages. They could have easily published all of my photos or messaged everyone in my address book. But they didn’t do anything like that. Instead, they simply changed the wallpaper on my phone to a picture of a toilet.

It was a childish prank, but it was also a powerful reminder of how vulnerable we are to these sorts of attacks. We trust our phones with our most personal information, and yet we are often careless with them. We click on links without thinking, and we enter our passwords into fake websites without hesitation. We need to be more careful.

If you receive an email like the one I did, don’t click on the link. Go to the website directly (in this case, Apple’s website) and change your password there. And be more careful in general with your phone. It’s not just your photos and messages at risk; it’s your whole life.

The Aftermath

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I used a simple hack to get around the 20-minute limit on iPhone screen time. It was a relatively innocuous workaround that let me squeeze in a bit more time on my phone before bed.

But then something strange happened: the more I used it, the more I wanted to use it. And before long, I was spending close to an hour on my phone every night.

It was only when I started noticing the impact it was having on my sleep that I realized how problematic this had become. I was staying up later than usual, and I felt groggy in the mornings. My productivity during the day suffered as a result.

So I decided to cut myself off. I turned off the hack, and I limited myself to 20 minutes of screen time before bed. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

Since then, I’ve been more mindful of my phone usage overall. And while I still use my phone a lot, I’m much better at putting it down when I need to.

The Lesson

I’ve been a software engineer for almost a decade now. I’ve written code that’s been used by millions of people, and I’ve been the victim of more than my fair share of hacks. But last week, I found myself on the other side of the equation. I became the hacker.

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