How to Protect your iOS Files

Hint: It Isn’t as Easy as it Should Be

As a criminal defense attorney, I often am receiving sensitive, privileged files that really are for my eyes only. The problem arises when others’ eyes fall upon my iPhone. My spouse, friends, cats, etc. have family unfettered access to my devices. Even if they don’t have my unlock code, I often pass around the phone to share content. The trick is keeping the sensitive stuff away from the stuff I want to share, and it is isn’t as easy as it should be.

File security and your iPhone and iPad are fundamentally at odds with each other. The problem essentially results from the fact that iOS is all about the apps, and file security is more of a trickle-down concern flowing from app security. Unlike most PCs, iOS drives users to open up an app first-there is no file explorer where you can open up a document with a default app. All of this is to say that if you want to secure your documents (or a particular document), you need to secure the app first, and the default iOS apps are not really designed for this.

So if you have sensitive crime scene photos on your phone, there is no simple way to partition them away from the vacation photos. Sure, you can create different albums, but there is no password protection or higher level security system available.

Here is my best solution so far:

I searched long and hard for an option that seemed trustworthy and had a substantial development history. I ultimately chose FileBrowser, which currently retails for $5.99. There are undoubtedly other choices that will work, though. Again, I am just looking for a simple app that has a passcode lock and the ability to create folders and organize files. I also needed an app that integrated with iOS sharing such that if I had an email attachment, I could use the “Open in…” feature to get the attachment into the file browser. I can even use Safari to download documents or images into FileBrowser.

Again, there are plenty of alternatives out there, but I think any solution should have the following attributes: (1) passcode lock; (2) folder organization; (3) ability to move files between folders (4) ability to easily get the files off of the iOS device. Number four is especially important because Apple has a habit of blacklisting file management apps and app developer often vanish into thin air. The last thing you want is to lose your files when you upgrade iOS or your phone or tablet.

It is also important to note that I have no reason to believe these apps are securely encrypting my data beyond the protection offered by iOS — all I really care about is putting a clear stopgap between the sensitive content and the shareable content. Also, attorneys should always be aware of applicable ethics rules; such apps may very well fall short of security requirements absent other safeguards.

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