Apple users beware: viruses are not the only way to lose data

Opinion by Robert Winter

There's a commonly held belief that Apple personal devices are immune to viruses and don't need anti-malware software to protect data and for a long time, this was true.

There's a commonly held belief that Apple personal devices are immune to viruses and don't need anti-malware software to protect data and for a long time, this was true.

In the early days Apple claimed that its operating systems were designed to leave no room for viruses to penetrate the system. Applications were always purchased through the App Store and anything that ran through it was checked thoroughly to ensure no dodgy code got into any device.

This approach worked well for years and Apple didn't need to invest in anti-virus programmes. However, Apple recently changed its stance on Apple's resilience to viruses. Instead of claiming that Apple is resistant to attack, it now states that its devices, such as the much loved Mac computer, is not as susceptible to the thousands of viruses plaguing other technologies.

Why the change in messaging? Maybe it has to do with the fact that this year two malware programmes - Crisis and Flashback - had the potential to infect Apple Macs running on older versions of OS X.

It has also emerged that the first confirmed malware affecting Apple iPhones appeared in late 2009. Granted, the virus only penetrated ‘jailbroken' iPhones, but it showed that Apple technology could be infiltrated.

The debate about Apple's growing susceptibility to malware is an interesting one, but it detracts from the fact that data loss can and does occur on Apple devices all the time without any help from a virus. Theft, damage and OS failures on the devices are far more common threats than malware and if the data isn't backed up it can be lost forever.

With the huge rise in popularity of Apple devices, particularly iPhones, Kroll Ontrack engineers have found that requests for Apple specific data recoveries have trebled over the past four years. The number continues to rise as Apple's market share climbs steadily, especially in the smartphone market.

According to a CNBC Economic Survey, over 50 per cent of US households own at least one Apple product, such as an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. UK trends mirror this, with indications that Apple devices are the most adopted in organisations.

Supporting the widespread adoption of Apple devices is an increasing array of data backup options – whether it is the cloud or backup software. However, many backups aren't always reliable and people often don't back up regularly enough.

As a result, Kroll Ontrack has seen a 350 per cent increase in personal Apple device data recovery requests in the past 12 months. Common logical failures leading to data loss on Apple products are deleted files, corrupt software, misplaced passwords and OS upgrade issues.

The most requested data to be recovered from these devices are photos, videos and contacts, followed by notes and text messages. In addition to the increase in personal device activity, Kroll Ontrack has also recovered over 1.1 petabytes of data from Apple devices in the past 12 months, a 16 per cent increase over the prior 12 months.

Kroll Ontrack is seeing more critical data being stored on Apple devices, especially as they are incorporated in bring your own device (BYOD) strategies, which means that there is a greater sense of urgency to recover this data in the event of data loss.

Apple might still have a clean bill of health when it comes to viruses but that doesn't mean that users aren't at risk of losing data. Backing up data and knowing how to secure information on your devices is the best way users can protect themselves.

Robert Winter is a senior engineer at Kroll Ontrack UK


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