iPhone and iPad Security

Stop Siri & Notification Center Giving Away Your iPhone Secrets

Tim Brookes 03-06-2015

You leave your iPhone on the table while you go to the bar, but that’s okay — it’s locked, right? There’s no way your date, business associate or hashtag swag mates can access your information or post slanderous things about you on Facebook… right?


Wrong. Siri and Notification Center are the two biggest threats to privacy on most iPhones, purely because they’re able to give away a surprising amount of personal information unless your default settings You Might Want To Change These Pesky Default iOS 7 Settings The way Apple supplies the iPhone or iPad in its default state might not be for everybody, and there are a number of settings you might want to change immediately. Read More are changed.

When Locked Doesn’t Mean Locked

By default, iOS allows full access to Siri and Notification Center when your iPhone is locked. Many of Siri’s features are restricted, and require a passcode or fingerprint in order to authorise them, but many more are not — and they pose serious privacy and security risks. It goes without saying you should already have a passcode on your iPhone; you can do so at Settings > Touch ID & Passcode.

Stop Siri & Notification Center Giving Away Your iPhone Secrets siri calls

From your lock screen you can ask Siri 8 Things You Probably Didn’t Realize Siri Could Do Siri has become one of the iPhone’s defining features, but for many people, it’s not always the most useful. While some of this is due to the limitations of voice recognition, the oddity of using... Read More to show your recent calls, and a full list of recently-contacted individuals will be displayed. You can also ask Siri to show recent messages, and the assistant will find and read any unread text messages you may have on your phone.

What’s more you can ask for a list of your notes, and they’ll all show up on cue. Reminders are also accessible — you can even check them off from Siri’s lock screen interface. If you’ve saved an address to your own personal contact in your address book (yes, you have one), you can ask Siri to “show me home on a map,” and it will — right there, in your lockscreen.


Stop Siri & Notification Center Giving Away Your iPhone Secrets siri map

Ask Siri for the address of any known contact, and it will also be displayed in your lockscreen. In fact, you can ask for any known contact information — phone numbers, email addresses, Twitter handles or simply ask for a list of contacts on the phone that match a certain query like: “Find people named Jones.”

Other functions accessible via Siri include many settings — like turning off Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and the ability to view and edit alarms. This is all before you get to the really juicy stuff like sending messages, making calls or posting to Twitter and Facebook (no passcode confirmation necessary).

Stop Siri & Notification Center Giving Away Your iPhone Secrets siri sms


With access to much of this information, an adversary could ruin you.

Notification Center & Lock Screen Replies

Of course, much of this information is available via the Notifications and Today screens anyway — which provides a comprehensive list of your incoming notifications, organised by app, including any apps you’ve specifically excluded from your lockscreen in Settings > Notifications.

Furthermore, iOS 8 allows you to reply to messages from the lock screen, by swiping left-to-right on the notification, tapping out a reply and sending it all without unlocking your device.

Stop Siri & Notification Center Giving Away Your iPhone Secrets siri messages


On the Today screen your widgets are accessible 10 Awesome Third-Party App Updates For iOS 8 The recent release of iOS 8 brought with it a flurry of third-party app updates to spice up your new or existing Apple mobile device. Read More , so if you’ve enabled any that display personal information like Evernote or DayOne, this information is also viewable (the apps themselves are not accessible, and require your phone be unlocked). You can also see upcoming appointments on a calendar and check off reminder items from this screen.

Limiting what appears in Notification Center is the only way to customise what is displayed. That renders the feature useless even when your phone is unlocked, so you’re better off disabling lock screen access instead.

Preventing Unwanted Access

The best way to stop your iPhone from giving away your personal information is to turn off the offending features. You might never use these features, or if you do you might have little need for them on the lockscreen — and if you’re using an iPhone 5s or later, you have a fingerprint scanner which makes unlocking your device as effortless as picking it up.

Most of us can afford a few seconds delay to ensure privacy, so head to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode to disable any features you aren’t comfortable with. You can disable lock screen access to the Today screen, Notifications view, Siri, Passbook (which only appears when prompted anyway) and the ability to reply to messages without unlocking your phone.


Stop Siri & Notification Center Giving Away Your iPhone Secrets disablelockscreen

With these settings disabled, you will still receive regular old notifications Put iOS Notifications To Work For You With These Apps Did you know that with the right apps you can be notified about pretty much anything using your iPhone? Read More in your lock screen, which show up when you wake your phone. If you want to exclude any apps from your lock screen for privacy reasons, head to Settings > Notifications and tap the app name. In the menu that appears uncheck Show on Lock Screen.

What Can Apple Do?

With Notification Center and Siri disabled from the lock screen, you might think the problem is solved, but in reality Siri is a handy tool to have at your disposal. The recently added “hey Siri,” functionality Siri Is Listening: Has iOS Privacy Been Blown Open? Apple's has been accused of recording everything - absolutely everything - you say to Siri, and passing it to a third-party. But is this really a privacy breach, or is there good reason for it? Read More enables hands-free usage, but when you disable the feature from your lockscreen it’s far less convenient.

Apple could allow users to decide what they are comfortable with Siri divulging while their phone is locked, allowing concerned parties to disable the sending of messages and other potentially problematic privileges.

Ultimately it’s up to you whether or not you disable these features, and much of that comes down to how often your phone is left unattended.

Have you disabled Siri or Notification Centre access from the lock screen? Was this for security, convenience, or something else?

Related topics: iPhone, Smartphone Security.

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  1. Mike Solt
    December 14, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    They should program it to recognize the users voice.....

    • Tim Brookes
      January 5, 2017 at 3:12 am

      Well you have to set up "Hey Siri" under Settings > Siri for it to work, so not everyone can activate using voice. I can't get my girlfriend's iPhone to recognise my voice, for example (this is super-handy when we both have our phones on the same table).

  2. Bernard
    August 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I think you missed one thing: al lot of information is given in the lock screen is because you activated Siri with an known fingerprint, without unlocking the iPhone. It still sees you are the owner, and is giving you more information than regular.
    Try it with a not-registered finger: you will only get the last recent call, in stead of a whole list.
    So Siri seems smarter than you think...

    • Princess
      December 5, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      Ya I think that too

    • Steve Wilkinson
      December 28, 2016 at 6:48 am

      If you activate via 'Hey Siri' then you haven't even touched the fingerprint sensor.

  3. Dave
    February 3, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    What about Siri reporting your private info to Apple? All your Siri questions are sent to Apple along with name, etc etc

    • Tim Brookes
      February 4, 2016 at 1:55 am

      I appreciate that some users might not like it, but that's something you accept by using the service in the first place. This post focuses on people who might actually physically access your phone, rather than the practices used by smartphone manufacturers.

      It's also worth noting that Apple is generally quite protective of such data, much of the time to its own detriment. Here's a piece we wrote about the failing iAd platform, a few weeks before Apple actually announced that it was shutting down the service: //www.makeuseof.com/tag/surprising-truth-apples-advertising-platform/

      I'm not suggesting you should just trust companies without a second thought, but if you're not happy with the way Siri handles your data then you should disable the service altogether.