For Better Privacy, Backup Your iPhone To iTunes

Apple has been a privacy-focused company for a long time now. They’re willing to go to great lengths to protect their customers, even facing off against the government.

One area that can become vulnerable to malicious attackers is iCloud. As an Apple user, you’re backing up the most important data of your life to iCloud. You’re not just backing up apps anymore; now it’s health data, financial data, photos, etc. Some people feel fine and trust Apple’s security measures, but others like myself may be uncomfortable. For those people, this article will help.

For the extra paranoid, don’t back up your data to iCloud – back it up to your computer instead. iTunes has an option to not only keep your backups under your control but also keep them encrypted as well. Although iCloud is heavily encrypted, the data is still out of your control.

As with most things in life, there are trade-offs to consider when choosing between iCloud and iTunes.

iCloud vs. iTunes

  • Stores backups in the cloud
  • Offers up to 1TB of storage (the first 5GB is free)
  • Always encrypts your backups (encryption by default)
  • Lets you create and use backups from any Wi-Fi connection.
  • Stores backups directly on your Mac or PC
  • Storage depends on your Mac or PC’s available space
  • Offers encrypted backups (off by default)
  • Lets you make and use backups from your Mac or PC

As you can see, most people choose to back up to iCloud out of convenience. Not everyone has that luxury, though. People such as whistleblowers, corporate employees and others may have better peace of mind when they are in control of where their data is stored.

Content That Is Not Stored In iCloud

  • Data that’s already stored in the cloud, like contacts, calendars, notes, My Photo Stream, and iCloud Photo Library
  • Data stored in other cloud services, like Gmail and Exchange mail
  • Apple Pay information and settings
  • Touch ID settings
  • Content you didn’t get directly from iTunes, App, or iBooks Stores, like imported MP3s, videos, or CDs
  • iTunes in the Cloud and App Store content (If it’s still available in the iTunes, App, or iBooks Store, you can tap to re-download your already purchased content.)

Content That Is Not Stored In iTunes

  • Content from the iTunes and App Stores or PDFs downloaded directly to iBooks (You can back up this content using Transfer Purchases in iTunes.)
  • Content synced from iTunes, like imported MP3s or CDs, videos, books, and photos
  • Photos already stored in the cloud, like My Photo Stream, and iCloud Photo Library
  • Touch ID settings
  • Apple Pay information and settings
  • Activity, Health, and Keychain data (To back up this content, you’ll need to use Encrypted Backup in iTunes.)

Encrypt Your iTunes Backups

Remember: encryption is off by default if you choose to backup to your own computer, so you have to turn on the setting manually. It’s also important to realize that if you lose or forget your encryption password, there is no way to recover your data or turn off encryption.

itunes-elcapitan-encrypt-iphone-backupHow to back up your iDevice:
  1. Open iTunes and connect the device to your computer.
  2. If you see a message pop up that says “Trust This Computer” or asks you for your device’s password, just follow the prompts.
  3. Once you see it in iTunes, select your device and navigate to the Summary section in the sidebar.
  4. Turn encryption on if you want to save your Health and Activity data. Choose the box to “Encrypt [device name] backup”. Create a strong password by using our guide or with a password manager.
  5. Once the encryption process is done, you can check to make sure that the process was successful. Go to iTunes Preferences > Devices, and you’ll see your device with the date and time. If the device is encrypted, you’ll see a padlock symbol on the side.

itunes-elcapitan-device-preferencesLocation Of Backup

For power users, you can poke around in your Mac to find out where the backup is located in the file system:

~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

You’ll have to enter a Terminal command first to show the hidden files and folders. Open Terminal, under Finder > Applications > Utilities, and either copy and paste the following text, or type it in:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles yes

Press Return, then force Finder to restart by holding down the Option key, then right-click the Finder icon and click Relaunch. If you decide to hide the files again, which is a good idea unless you know what you’re doing, just enter the above command again, but replace “yes” with “no.”

terminalWindows 7 and Vista users can find the backup using this directory path:

C:\Users\user\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup

Windows 8 and 10 users can use this path:

\Users\YourUsername\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup

Back Up Your Device To An External Hard Drive

For extra security, it’s also possible to back up your iDevice to an external hard drive. You can use this method exclusively, or back up to your computer and store a copy of the backup on a hard disk. This is especially useful if you have one of Apple’s limited 128GB Macs. Here are the steps:

  1. Quit iTunes (if it’s open).
  2. Connect the external hard drive to the Mac then create a new folder on the drive and dedicate it to the iTunes backups.
  3. Open a new Finder window, press Command+Shift+G and enter the following path: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/
  4. Find the folder called Backup and copy that to the external hard drive.
  5. In the original location, rename Backup to “Backup-Old” or just delete it.
  6. Launch Terminal and enter the following command: ln -s /Volumes/FileStorage/iTunesExternalBackupSymLink/Backup/~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync
  7. Quit Terminal, then verify that it the symbolic link was created by going back to ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync. The Backup folder should now have a generic file symbol with an arrow on the corner.
  8. Open iTunes and connect your iDevice. Under the Backups section, select “This Computer” as the location, and choose “Back Up Now”.
  9. Double check to make sure everything was backed up and synced correctly.

That’s it. Keep in mind that you’ll have to connect the external hard drive every time you backup/restore your device. Otherwise, the backup will fail.