It’s been one hell of a week for Robert Bentley, the 71-year-old governor of Alabama who resigned yesterday after a year-long saga involving an alleged affair with his political advisor, Rebekah Mason. That indiscretion came to light after some NSFW correspondence between the two was leaked—in part because Bentley used iMessages to text Mason, and those iMessages were synced to the state-issued iPad he shared with his wife.
We can all learn a lesson here: If you’re planning to sext someone other than your lover, remember to first unlink your iMessages from your other devices.
Thanks to Apple’s push to streamline its iCloud services, iMessages have a weird way of popping up across all devices: on the lock screen of your iPad, on your Macbook Pro, on the computer you use at work. At best, your conversations are always available to you on all of your screens. At worst, it can be downright humiliating: Nothing says “HR violation” quite like a graphic text message materializing in the corner while you’re screensharing with a coworker. So, for those times you want to limit the ubiquity of your private communications, here are four simple steps to contain them to one personal device: your phone.
Find Out Where You’re Signed In
iMessages, like many other services in the Apple universe, stay linked to your Apple ID. Any device you’ve logged into using your Apple ID will receive iMessages addressed to you. To manage where you’re signed in and where your messages are potentially popping up, head to your Apple ID account page and review what’s listed under “devices.” You can decouple any of the devices by clicking on it and selecting “remove.”
Also, your Apple ID should be yours and yours only. Sure, it’s a lovely notion that you and your significant other share everything, but there’s no reason to have all your partner’s downloaded Phish albums appear automatically in your iTunes. For those who want that kind of arrangement, particularly with app or music purchases, Apple offers Family Sharing for people with unique Apple IDs to sync certain parts of iCloud without giving away all their messages.
Turn On Two-Factor Authentication
Make sure your Apple ID can’t be accessed on devices you haven’t authorized by setting up two-factor authentication. This way, even if someone knows your Apple ID and password, they can’t log in without a separate six-digit verification code sent to a trusted device, like your personal iPhone. It’s a good first line of defense against hackers as well as anyone with whom you may have shared your password (like a spouse) who doesn’t need all of your jibber jabber streaming in through iMessage. You can set it up by doing this on any of your iOS devices: go to settings, then passwords and security, then toggle two-factor authentication on. It’s just good practice.
Turn Off iMessaging
Two-factor authentication blocks people from accessing your messages and the like on foreign devices, but that doesn’t stop trusted devices—like your laptop or iPad—from syncing with your iPhone. If you want to keep your iMessages on your phone alone, simply turn off iMessages on other devices. On a Mac: Open your preferences in the Messages app and uncheck your iCloud address in the accounts tab. On an iPad: Go into settings, then Messages, and move the slider into the off position. You can toggle these back on in the future, but keeping them disabled will prevent personal messages from popping up at inopportune times
If you’d rather keep iMessage enabled, uncheck the option to send and receive iMessages associated with your phone number. That way, messages sent to your email address still show up, but messages intended for your phone (read: sexts) do not.
Besides securing your iMessages, review your iCloud photo sharing settings to stop your pictures from auto-syncing across devices. That’s a good idea both to prevent potential hacks (remember The Fappening?) and to avoid your, ahem, personal photos showing up as your desktop screensaver because it pulls from your default photos folder. Set a password on your entire iPhoto library by selecting “require password” in iPhoto’s sharing settings, or secure just the photo albums that contain private material.
Track Your Device
Of course, disabling sync and turning on two-factor authentication only keep your messages and photos from appearing on your other devices. If you’re concerned about the prying eyes of someone—like a roommate or significant other—who has access to your phone and computer while you’re in the bathroom, apps like Prey can alert you when someone is using your device and can even remotely lock the screen. Overkill? Probably. But for the ultra-paranoid, it’s one way to keep your secrets secured. Then again, if you have that much to hide in your iMessages, it might be time to look into a burner phone.