Modern phones often come with built-in features we all take for granted. Things like voicemail, caller ID and notifications are so commonplace it can be hard to imagine phones without them.
But one unsung feature found on every phone, tablet and even computers has had a huge impact on users: copy and paste.
We don’t even think about the feature, but it’s undeniably important. It’s how we share long links and lines of text with ease. It may have emerged on computers, but it’s become part of every phone’s DNA today. Tap or click to learn how to copy and paste multiple things at once on Windows.
But iPhone users be warned: This commonplace feature opens you up to a unique security risk, allowing apps to snoop on anything you copy and paste — even if it’s private or sensitive.
Do you copy?
Researchers at security firm Mysk have discovered a flaw that can let anyone snoop on your recently copied or pasted files. While developing iOS, Apple apparently decided not to add security measures to protect the clipboard, which is a temporary file storage area for copied files and text.
This means any app can spy on and transmit data saved in your clipboard. While this might seem like it isn’t a big deal, the implications are huge.
Imagine you just copied and pasted a private photo in a text to a significant other. Now, unless you copy something new, a third-party can easily access that photo.
To demonstrate its findings, Mysk developed an app called KlipboardSpy and prepared a proof-of-concept video showcasing the vulnerability. The app is clearly able to access the clipboard, as well as analyze and open its contents.
Mysk promptly reported its findings to Apple, but researchers were surprised to find Apple took no stance on the matter. Apparently, Apple doesn’t believe the vulnerability warrants attention, which means it’s unlikely a formal fix will arrive anytime soon.
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How can I protect myself from this security hole?
There isn’t much that can be done about the clipboard in its current form. Mysk urged Apple to add additional permissions options for the clipboard that could protect users, but the company has chosen not to heed the advice. As it stands, the clipboard is working exactly as it should.
For peace of mind, one of the easiest ways to keep your clipboard free of compromising data is to regularly replace what you’re copying. In other words, keep a bit of text in your Notes app and copy that once you’ve finished pasting something else.
Make it a simple word or sentence that doesn’t say anything important. That way, the only data you’re hanging on to is a bit of harmless text.
This is a good example of why it’s important to review what apps you allow on your device, and their level of permissions. And in this case, data-hungry apps can’t take information from your clipboard if they’re not installed in the first place.