Even though the Apple Watch needs an iPhone to complete most tasks, the wearable still stores some of your personal data. With only your wrist and a passcode protecting it, how secure is your Apple Watch really?
Apple’s wearable can control a smart home, pay for purchases, track exercise and much more. But while the many security measures Apple uses to protect your information on iOS devices is well-known, the issue is not always so clear when using the Apple Watch.
Let’s take a look at Apple Watch security and how to protect the sensitive data stored within.
What You Need to Protect
For daily use, as anyone with an Apple Watch already knows, you require a paired iPhone. Since there’s no built-in cellular capability and only basic Wi-Fi functionality, the watch will need to request any new data from the handset.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any important information available without an iPhone nearby. Easily the biggest is your credit card information for Apple Pay. Your Watch can pay for purchases without the need for an iPhone, which is a very useful feature until it falls into the wrong hands.
Also accessible are any email or text messages, fitness and health information, contact information, and app data too. If your Apple Watch disappears, it could easily become a big problem.
Using Passcode Lock
The easiest way to protect any Apple Watch is with a passcode lock. If you use the watch for Apple Pay, Apple requires a passcode.
When setting up a new watch, you have the option of selecting a lock code. If you don’t do that during setup, just head to the companion Watch iPhone app and select My Watch > Passcode. You can either enter a simple four-digit code or a more complicated version with anywhere from 5–10 digits.
It can, and probably should be, different from other passcodes on your iPhone or iPad.
Fortunately, unlike passcode lock on an iOS device, you won’t have to enter the code every time when using the device
The code only has to be entered after restarting an Apple Watch or when you take it off and put it back on. So if you wear the watch all day, you’ll only need to enter a passcode once in the morning after putting it on.Sensors within the device determine whether it’s currently being worn or has been taken off.
Another nice feature that you can enable in the same menu is Unlock with iPhone. When the setting is active, unlocking the iPhone will automatically unlock the Apple Watch as well, provided you’re actually wearing the device.
This Watch Will Self-Destruct…
If someone finds an Apple Watch and tries to guess the correct passcode, there are fail-safes as well.
After the incorrect passcode is entered six times, an automatic one-minute delay will be required before trying again. Once an incorrect code is entered 10 times, two different actions can occur depending on the chosen setting.
If Erase Data is enabled in the Passcode menu, 10 incorrect passcode entries will automatically and completely erase the watch. Not exactly Mission: Impossible, but definitely a big deterrent to any would-be bad guy.
On the other hand, if you’re forgetful and don’t have a backup of the Apple Watch, this can be a real inconvenience, You should think about using a password manager to store your codes after turning this setting on.
Without that setting enabled, there is a bit of hope if the rightful owners happen to forget the passcode. They can completely erase the Apple Watch and re-pair with an iPhone. Erase the watch by heading to General > Reset >Erase Apple Watch Content and Settings in the Watch app.
The most effective security feature any Apple Watch user needs to enable is Activation Lock. It’s a simple yet effective way to make any lost or stolen watch completely useless. Just to note, your Apple Watch will need watchOS 2 or later installed to take advantage of the security feature.
With the feature active, anyone who finds or steals an Apple Watch will have to provide the associated Apple ID and password before it can be erased and used with a new iPhone. It also kicks in when someone attempts to unpair your watch from an iPhone or disabling the location feature.
So unless a thief is psychic and can magically pull your Apple ID and password out of thin air, all they’ll have is a worthless piece of junk that they can wear on their wrist. The good news is that if you’ve already setup Find My iPhone, Activation Lock is active and running for the watch.
You can double check by opening up the Watch app on the iPhone. Select the My Watch tab and the choose your watch’s name on the screen. After hitting the “i” icon look for Find My Apple Watch. If you see that, the feature is active.
Thankfully, Activation Lock doesn’t need any kind of internet connection and protects the watch and its data anywhere. Most Apple devices feature the same protection now, provided the Find My iPhone (or iPad, or iPod, or Mac) feature is active.
Tracking It Down
If your Apple Watch does happen to vanish, there are additional layers of protection in the free Find My iPhone app above and beyond Activation Lock.
Most importantly, you can view a map that will show the last known approximate location of the device, using the last known trusted Wi-Fi connection. You can do that by using the Find My iPhone app or even going to the Find iPhone tab on iCloud.com.
Launch the app and enter the correct Apple ID and password. Click on the watch’s name to hopefully view it on the map. If you don’t see a map, that means the watch can’t access an iPhone or Wi-Fi network.
If you can locate an Apple Watch on a map, and the watch is nearby, hit the Play Sound button. As the name suggests, it will automatically play a loud noise. That should make the device easier to find if it is stuck under a couch cushion or some other out of the way location.
Lost Mode is another option you can select using the Find My iPhone app or website. Along with providing a phone number, you can write a short customized message that will appear on the watch’s screen. Use this to leave a phone number or email address that any good samaritans can use to contact you. You may also consider a reward if the watch is engraved or particularly sentimental.
The final step, when you’re sure you aren’t getting your watch back, is to Erase Watch. That will remotely erase all information stored on the watch. Activation Lock persists however, so anyone who finds or attempts to use the watch is out of luck.
Even though all of those features can hopefully help track down your Apple Watch, there is a substantial limitation. The device has no way to connect to any cell networks and its Wi-Fi feature is only available on networks that have previously been accessed.
As the Apple Watch has become more popular and added more features, Apple has been proactive to add additional layers of security to protect the device and its information. While nothing is perfect, Activation Lock, Passcode Lock, and Find My iPhone provide a combination of nice security features for any watch wearer.
Do you worry about the security of information stored on your Apple Watch? Let us know in the comments.