How to Secure Your iPhone: Essential Steps

As smartphone theft grows, people need to do all they can to secure their devices. Read the essential steps you can take to secure your iphone and find just what else the industry is, and is not, doing.

According to the San Francisco police department, more than half of the robberies that occurred in the city in 2012 involved a smart phone. This could really happen to you at any time. And while you can go and buy a new phone, all of your personal information now sits in the hands of a criminal.

Preventing Data Theft and Casual Hacking on your iPhone

Lock Code

You can use either a 4-digit number or a longer “complex passcode” of case-sensitive letters, numbers, spaces, and characters. And if you prefer, you can activate a feature where entering a passcode incorrectly 10 times will wipe the phone. The iPhone 5S has the same passcode features, with an added Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

Lock Screen Features

This is critically important. iOS can give you access to some features without entering your lock code. Though sensitive personal information is not accessible, you can use some functions of Siri, such as placing a voice call or sending a text message, as well as reply to a missed call with a canned text message. Though you might find those shortcuts convenient, your handset will be more secure if you turn them off. Go to Settings > General > Passcode Lock.

Similarly, you’ll also need to turn off access to the Control Center and the Notification Center from your lock screen. To get there, go to Settings > Control Center, and Settings > Notification Center.

Tracking and Erasing the Data on Your Phone

Find my iPhone

This feature enables you to track, manage, and secure your phone once it’s missing. To use it, you’ll first need an iCloud account, though you do not need to sync any of your data, like e-mail and contacts, to the cloud. After you’re set up, then go to the iCloud page of your iPhone’s Settings and slide the Find My iPhone toggle to on.

After you sign into your iCloud account, click on the Find My iPhone option.

Once your phone has been stolen, the first step is to sign on to iCloud.com or use the free Find My iPhone app on another iOS device. Once in, you’ll be able to find your device on an Apple map, but only if it is connected to a cellular or public Wi-Fi network (both secure and not). If the phone is connected just to a hidden Wi-Fi network (that is, one that does not appear in your handset’s list of available networks), you may not be able to track it. Other restrictions also apply, but I’ll get to those later.

After locating your phone and clicking on the icon, you can do a number of things. The first is to make the phone make play a sound at full volume for two minutes (even if it’s in silent mode). As this step is more useful if you just happen to lose your phone in your sofa cushions, I’d advise not using it if you’re certain that your handset is stolen. It just won’t do a lot of good except annoy a thief. You also can erase your handset completely, but this step is rather premature. Instead, first try activating Lost Mode as soon as you as you can. Not only does it give you more options for controlling your phone, it also adds a stricter level of security.

Lost Mode

Lost Mode does a couple of things, the first of which is give you more features for controlling your device. To begin, if you haven’t yet secured your device with a passcode (and, really, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t), you’ll be able to select a four-digit simple passcode and lock the screen remotely. At the very least, that will prevent all but the most sophisticated thieves from accessing your personal information. Remember, though, that to make your phone as secure as possible, you should have already deactivated lock screen access to the features I mentioned previously.

The next step is to send a custom message to your handset’s lock screen that can’t be erased. You can write whatever you want, from your name or phone number, to a plea to contact you, to a more colorful message telling thieves what you really think of them. The latter, however, probably isn’t the wisest course of action.

Lost Mode also lets you see a history of your phone’s location over the last 24 hours with points displayed as pins on the aforementioned map. Finally, if all hope is gone, you can erase your device completely. Once you erase it, you’ll lose the ability to track it further, but your lock code and onscreen message will remain.

Activation Lock

Lost Mode also plays a role in Activation Lock, which is a few feature added in iOS 7. Built after Apple users rightfully complained that Find My iPhone wasn’t comprehensive enough, Activation Lock tries to close the loop by preventing a thief from reusing your device after you’ve accepted that it’s gone for good.

Running in the background from the moment you turn on Find My iPhone, Activation Lock pairs your Apple ID and password with the serial number of your handset in Apple’s servers. Your ID and password are then required before anyone can turn off Find My iPhone on your handset, attempt to erase any data (that’s assuming they aren’t stopped by your password), reactivate your phone under a different account, or claim a new phone under your warranty. Activation Lock also remains in place if a thief tries to swap out your SIM card. If you happen to get your phone back and can’t remember your password, you can retrieve it by calling Apple support and properly identifying yourself.

The Bottom Line

Don’t forget that Find My iPhone only works as long as your device is online through your carrier’s cellular network or WiFi. If a thief turns off your phone or manages to activate Airplane Mode you won’t be able to track it. You can send commands to lock the phone, erase the contents, etc., but those commands won’t be carried out until the phone reconnects. The bottom line, however, is that the iPhone has many built-in ways of protecting yourself in the increasingly likely (depending on which city you live in) chance your iPhone might be stolen.

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