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Here’s how to protect yourself from iPhone thieves locking you out of your own device

A worrying method that iPhone thieves use to permanently lock users out of their devices is on the rise. As the Wall Street Journal reports, thieves are exploiting a security setting called recovery keys that makes it nearly impossible for owners to access their photos, messages, data and more. In some cases, victims’ bank accounts were emptied after thieves accessed their financial apps.

This takeover method is challenging to implement. This involves a criminal observing an iPhone user entering their passcode, often by looking over their shoulder in public places, or manipulating the owner into revealing their passcode before physically stealing the device.

Once they have the passcode, thieves can change the Apple ID, turn off Find My iPhone to prevent location tracking, and reset the recovery key, a complex 28-digit code designed to protect the device from online hackers. If the recovery key is changed, the original owner will not have the new code and will be permanently banned.

Apple understands the severity of these attacks. “We sympathize with people who have had this experience, and we take all attacks on our users very seriously, no matter how rare,” an Apple spokesperson said. “We work tirelessly every day to protect our users’ accounts and data, and are constantly looking for additional protections against new threats like this.”

Apple’s website recommends users maintain access to their trusted devices and recovery key. Losing both potentially means a permanent lockout. Jeff Pollard, vice president at Forrester Research, suggests that Apple should provide more customer support and ways for users to authenticate and reset settings.

Here are some steps to protect yourself:

Protect Your Passcode

  • Use Face ID or Touch ID: Unlock your phone using Face ID or Touch ID in public to avoid revealing your passcode.
  • Set a Stronger Passcode: Use a longer, alphanumeric passcode that’s harder to guess.
  • Change Passcode Immediately: If you think someone has seen your passcode, change it right away.

Use Screen Time Settings

  • Enable Screen Time Restrictions: Set up a secondary password within the Screen Time settings. This additional password is required before any changes can be made to the Apple ID.

Regularly Back Up Your Phone

  • Back Up Data: Regularly back up your iPhone via iCloud or iTunes to recover data if your phone is stolen.
  • Use Additional Cloud Services: Store important files and photos in other cloud services like Google Photos, Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Photos, or Dropbox to minimize data loss.

By following these steps, you can safeguard your iPhone and personal information from thieves.

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