How can you help secure your sensitive iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) data in the case of loss or theft? Here I will discuss this question in the context of devices running iOS 6 and set up with iCloud, though similar guidelines will apply for iOS 5.
Before discussing ways to maximize security, I encourage you to update your iOS device to the latest version through Settings > General > Software Update (related: How to update your iOS version). This will help protect your device from any malicious exploits made for older iOS so that they won’t compromise your data security. I also suggest regularly backing up your device through iTunes (on a secured computer) or through iCloud. That way, even if your device is lost or stolen you can rest assured that your data is both secure and ready to be restored to another iOS device.
While it may seem obvious, the best security for your device is often physical: so long as the device stays in your hands, clothing, or bag rather than on a nearby table, bus seat, or anywhere else, it is much less likely to be lost or stolen. Your next layer of defense are your Apple ID and device passcodes, both of which should be strong but easy to remember. If you want to change your Apple ID, Apple makes it easy to do so (related: “Your Apple ID has been disabled”). You can enable your iOS device passcode by tapping Settings > General > Passcode Lock. For optimal security, turn off Simple Passcode, enable Erase Data, and set the Require Passcode time to Immediate. That way, even if someone takes your device they will still need to crack your more complex passcode within ten tries, after which your device will delete your data and restore itself to factory default settings. And although this does not help you retrieve your device, it will at least keep your information secure. (Related: Forgot iPhone/iPad passcode? How to reset your passcode)
By enabling Find My Device in Settings > iCloud, you gain some control over your device even when it has been lost or stolen. So long as the device remains on and connected to either Wifi or cellular networks, you will be able to locate, add a new passcode to, and delete the data on it using iCloud.com or the Find My iPhone app. Keep in mind that deleting the data on your device with this feature will also prevent you from tracking its location since the device will be restored to factory default settings.(Related: My device (Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod) was stolen or lost; what should I do?)
Up to now my suggestions have mainly focused on securing your iOS device itself, but iOS also offers great ways to increase the security of other services you use. For instance, if you use an iPhone and a Google or Dropbox account, you can greatly enhance their security by turning on Two-Step Verification. To do this, go to Accounts > Security when logged in at Google.com or go to (user name) > Settings > Security when logged in at Dropbox.com. Once you do, follow the steps and install an authenticator iOS app such as Google’s Authenticator. From now on, no one will be able to access your Google or Dropbox accounts without physical access to your passcode-locked iPhone.
While taking steps like the ones I’ve listed above will make your data more secure, keep in mind that all security measures are imperfect. As such, you may want to consider what you would need to do if your data security was compromised despite your best efforts. And if someone does steal your device or access your data without your permission, remember that it is they who are at fault, not you. To say otherwise is to support stealing as inevitable rather than as something that should be treated for what it is: an act that someone chose to do and for which they are fully accountable because it would not have happened without them. After all, it is unacceptable to punch someone simply because they are standing within reach of you! By holding perpetrators accountable in this way, we can also focus on the cultural and institutional contexts that made their actions possible.
Obsessed with tech since the early arrival of A/UX on Apple, Sudz (SK) is responsible for the editorial direction of AppleToolBox. He is based out of Los Angeles, CA.
Sudz specializes in covering all things macOS, having reviewed dozens of OS X and macOS developments over the years.
In a former life, Sudz worked helping Fortune 100 companies with their technology and business transformation aspirations.