How Stolen iOS Devices Are Unlocked

For a number of years now, Apple has been implementing “Activation Lock” and “Find my iPhone” to deter the theft of iOS devices. According to some statistics, this effort has had some success. But with millions of users carrying devices costing $500 and more loosely secured in their pockets, mobile devices far exceed the value of an average wallet.

Activation Lock links a device to a user’s iCloud account. If a user configures a new device, the user is asked for iCloud credentials or offered to set up a new iCloud account. A device can not be activated without providing this information. If you sell or pass on a device, deleting the data from the device is not sufficient, but you will also have to remove the link to your iCloud account, for example by turning off “Find My iPhone.” Changing the setting always requires at least a password (and if configured two-factor authentication). Biometrics can be used to unlock the phone, but it can not be used to remove the iCloud link.

But iOS devices are still being stolen, and thieves have come up with some rather ingenious methods to unlock them…