If your iPhone is no longer in your possession, you might never see it again and the last thing you want to worry about is data security. Here’s what you need to do.
Data theft can be just as damaging (if not more so) than losing a very expensive gadget. Your iPhone might be your pride and joy, but just imagine if someone gained access to your email, bank or social media accounts – wouldn’t that potentially be worse?
Here’s what to do when the unthinkable happens.
Use Find My iPhone
With the power of iCloud it’s now possible to locate your device provided it still has access to some sort of data connection (cellular or Wi-Fi). This won’t work if your device is not using the Find My Phone service (by default you have to opt out), has run out of battery or was last seen in Airplane Mode, but it’s certainly worth a shot.
Head over to iCloud.com, login with your Apple ID and the same password you use to authorise app purchases and click on Find My iPhone. iCloud will attempt to locate your device, if found you can take a note of whether it’s moving, whether it’s down the back of the sofa or indeed whether it appears somewhere entirely different to where you last had it – in which case, it’s probably been stolen.
Using iCloud.com it’s possible to initiate a remote wipe of the phone, which will cause the phone to reset itself to factory settings and preserve your data. Do this by logging in, clicking on Find My iPhone then selecting the device and enabling Lost Mode. Don’t forget to leave a message and a phone number in the hope that whoever took it might actually return it (or leave it somewhere, at least).
If your phone has been stolen but remains traceable, you may want to hand the information over to the police. There have been a few examples where law enforcement have used Apple’s Find My iPhone location data to recover stolen devices, though be prepared that this may not be the case.
If your phone has been updated to iOS 7, you’ve got another safety net in place in the form of Activation Lock. Even after wiping the device, it will require your own personal Apple ID and password to be usable. Until these credentials are provided, the phone will refuse to work as intended. It’s useless to the thief, and not even Apple will unlock it.
You can tell if your phone has been updated to iOS 7 first and foremost by the graphical style. Apple introduced a new, cleaner interface. You can see the difference at-a-glance in the screenshot above (iOS 7 is on the right). You can also head over to Settings > General > About and look at the number under Version.
If you’re reading this before your phone has been stolen (touch wood, it won’t be) this is just another compelling reason to upgrade to the latest and greatest.
What If You Can’t Find It?
If you can’t find your phone (and for the very security conscious out there, even if you can) there are still a few things you should do to ensure your most important accounts remain safe.
Your personal email address is probably more important than you realise. It’s where your password resets go, quite possibly your Apple ID is registered there and I bet you’ve got a bank account or similar financial service that uses it too. Access to this (and any, connected work email addresses could be just as devastating) should be revoked immediately upon noticing your phone has gone walkies.
Changing your password is often enough to require a re-authentication for your various devices, though if you’re using an application-specific password for logging in (such as those provided with Gmail’s two-factor authentication) then you can just revoke access under security settings.
Twitter and Facebook (among others) integrate with iOS 7 too. Revoke Twitter access by visiting Settings > Apps on Twitter’s main website (above), then clicking Revoke next to each entry. If you have core integration that won’t allow you to revoke access, simply change your main Twitter password and your phone’s login will then be outdated. Facebook’s approved apps can be revoked under Account Settings > Apps (below).
It’s especially important you do this as soon as physically possible if you were walking around without a passcode lock.
Once all account access has been revoked, you’ll probably want to cross your fingers that the thief or police are able to return your device. Having access to the IMEI (Settings > General > About) makes it easy to initialise a carrier-block, but iOS 7 takes care of much of the problem of stolen phones through Activation Lock.
At present, the best thing you can do is to lock your phone with a passcode or more adventurous password to delay any potential security breaches. Making sure you’ve got Find My iPhone running under Settings > iCloud will ensure your iPhone is traceable should it go missing. Upgrading to iOS 7 provides some peace of mind in the form of Activation Lock, rendering the phone useless even after it has been erased.
Even if you think your phone is secure, there’s always a chance the thief will guess and gain access. For best security, don’t choose easy “1234” passcodes. You can read more about how disabling Control Centre may help protect your phone, as well as a breakdown of the current vulnerabilities faced by the iPhone 5S in our Touch ID security article.
If you’ve had your iPhone stolen then we’d love to hear your story – did you get it back? Did you use Find my iPhone?