Who is remotely controlling my iPhone???
This is a personal story that scared the hell out of me.
On Monday I was awoken by my iPhone alarm telling me that it was time to get up to go to work. I picked up the phone and looked at the day's calendar. Ug. I put it back down in its dock for a couple more Z's.
Seconds later, I heard it clicking.
I looked at my phone, and it looked like someone was typing on it! Click. Then a swipe. And then more clicks. One of my business apps was being operated, but NO ONE was touching my iPhone! I was sure that a Hacker was remotely operating my iPhone, digging around for my private data!
This was shocking. My phone stores a lot of good stuff - my email, photos, finances, passwords and all sorts of other goodies. If someone compromised my phone they could know where I am. They could operate the cameras, the microphones - in short, they could know almost everything about me.
It looked like the hacker didn't know what he was doing - he was just bopping around. Maybe he was just a kid in some far-off land searching for anything of value. And in the end, I figured out EXACTLY who was to blame.
I quickly decided that immediate action was necessary.
First step: power it down
After taking a quick video of my phone being operated remotely (as evidence), I decided that I should prevent any further damage to my privacy. I picked up the device and turned on airplane mode. Then I powered it down.
Second step: wipe
I hooked my iPhone up to iTunes and chose "Backup" to ensure that evidence of the compromise was captured and that any of my remaining data was saved. Then I performed an iPhone reset via iTunes - which wipes the device and re-installs a brand new copy of the operating system downloaded from Apple. And then I chose to do a restore, using the logic that my data was OK, it was just a software compromise.
Third step: rebuild
During the restore I had the iPhone restore the apps from the iTunes store - over the air - again using the logic that my apps may have been compromised and there is nothing like getting the latest from iTunes. I plugged my phone into my iPhone dock and let it pull down the apps wirelessly over WIFI.
Fourth step: passwords!
My phone was compromised, so someone could have got their hands on my passwords as I typed them (keyboard compromise) or by stealing them from poorly behaving app data stores. So I hopped on my computer and proceeded to change dozens of key passwords (email accounts, Facebook, banking accounts, etc).
Fifth step: WTF!!!
So I was on my computer, in the midst of making my password changes, when I heard my phone clicking on its keyboard again. WTF??? My phone was STILL compromised! Maybe the low-level firmware was compromised, and even wiping off iOS and all the apps wasn't good enough. I picked up the phone, and whomever was remotely controlling it stopped! Undoubtedly the hacker sensed my presence via the motion detector or the camera! VERY SCARY.
Sixth step: Eh?
Then I got to thinking, maybe it was NOBODY. Maybe my screen was going bad, detecting false touches and swipes. Hmmm. I downloaded and installed a "finger paint" program to see what was happening. Nothing interesting appeared on the screen. And then I docked it my iPhone, and within in a few minutes, some crazy dots and lines started to appear all on their own, as shown below:
|Crazy lines from Paint program|
Seventh step: Dang
So I figured my iPhone was dying. "Dang, out of warranty, still under contract" - this was not great timing. Then I noticed that the phone was quite warm. A little more investigation found the power adapter to be rather HOT. I was running a cheap knockoff USB adapter for the past year - and a little test with a voltmeter showed the knock-off adapter to be providing chaotic power, from 3v to 9v. Very far away from the 5 volts (±0.55) of the USB standard.
|Dangerous knock-off power adapter was the problem all along!|
Eighth step: The fix!
So I try all this on another AC adapter, and my "remotely controlled screen" problem completely goes away. My phone wasn't compromised - it was a very bad (but very official looking) AC Power Adapter. I chucked the crappy adapter and now I'm back in action. Yay!
It was all my fault - I bought and used a crappy 3rd party adapter. It failed in a way that I could never see, and in a way that could have damaged your phone. Always get a name brand adapter - at least you can go back to them if it damages your phone. Luckily for me, I suffered no damage*** other than a few hours of paranoia and work.
*** UPDATE: Zapped volume buttons
Soon after this I noticed that my volume buttons stopped working. I took the iPhone to the shop for repair. Despite numerous attempts of a repair with new parts, the volume buttons couldn't be fixed. It was a fault inside the logic board. I blame the adapter for zapping my iPhone. A sad story indeed.