Protecting Against iPhone Passcode Thieves

2023-06-22, by Dmitri Zdorov

If thieves steal both your iPhone and passcode, they can lock you out of all your devices almost instantly. Here's how to protect yourself

Protect your iPhone pin

Here's the situation: if a thief steals just your iPhone, it's terrible, but your account, your data, photos, credit cards, and bank accounts are safe. However, if, before stealing your iPhone, they snoop your passcode, the situation becomes drastically more brutal. When they know your passcode, they can change it, and they can change your iCloud password, log you out of all your other devices, and then proceed with various ways to exploit the situation. And do all that in seconds. Then things will get way worse really quickly because the loss of your iPhone is just a beginning of an actual disaster to the extent of them deleting all your photos, highjacking all your media accounts and soliciting people who trust you, using your credit cards with Apple Pay, possibly get to your banking accounts, etc.

You might think that it's not that easy to steal your iPhone passcode because you mostly use Face ID or Touch ID, but they use clever technics to get it. For example, a couple of girls might take pictures of each other in a crowded touristy place. A crook appears and offers to take a photo of both of them, and he does. He hands the iPhone back, asking them if the picture came out well. As he does it, he presses the power button a few times, forcing the iPhone to prompt for the pin. At this moment, the victim is distracted, and his accomplice is looking over her shoulder or filming how she enters the pin. And if they manage to steal a phone itself a few minutes later, the game is over. And this is just a straightforward scenario. There are many other ways to do that.

It is a pretty alarming flow, and ever since Joanna Stern, John Gruber, and others started to warn people about it, some of the most savvy users have been aware of this risk. John Gruber even raised that issue to the Apple execs during his WWDC Talk Show. Surprisingly, Craig Federighi did not have a good answer. What a shame.

However, things are not that bad because I have a good solution for you. It does not require purchasing any security products. iOS already has a way to protect you; surprisingly, there is little talk about it.

Protect your iPhone password

By default, you go to the Setting app and from there to Face ID and Passcode and take over. Let me show you how to put an additional level of protection there.

Protect your iPhone password

  1. Go to Settings App on your iPhone.
  2. Select Screen Time.
  3. Scroll down to Content & Privacy Restrictions.
  4. Under the ALLOW CHANGES section, locate Passcode Changes and Account Changes.
  5. You will be prompted to enter if you have already set up a Screen Time password (as many parents do). You will be prompted to create a Screen Time password if you still need to set it up.
  6. Change the setting to "Don't Allow" for both Passcode and Account Changes.
  7. That's it! Your Settings will no longer display the option to change the password, and your iCloud settings will prevent you from disabling Find My or changing the password. Just remember to go to Screen Time again if you do need to change those things.

Of course, it would not protect your iPhone from being stolen, and crooks still can overlook your passcode. Yet, at least they will not be able to lock you out from all your accounts and thus give you time to lock them out, mark your device as stolen, and so on. Your Screen Time password they obviously did not see, will be in their way. Just make sure it's different from your iPhone passcode.

In any case, please be cautious of all this, and use a good passcode. I suggest using a longer number because once you opt out of using a default 6-digit pin setting, it's way harder to guess and even steal it by sneaking up.

Tags: iphone, security, howto

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