Blog Post

iOS 101: Keep Information on Your Device Safe

Chances are, there’s a lot of personal information and data stored on your iPhone (s aapl) or iPad. The last thing you want is someone getting hold of that data and using it maliciously. I’ve already been through how to encrypt your iOS backup so that the data in there is secure, but what about if someone gets hold of your actual device?

Set a Passcode

If a thief can’t unlock your device, they can’t access your data, so setting a passcode lock is a good idea. Once set, the passcode will need to be entered each time in order to unlock the device. To set one, tap Settings, General, then Passcode Lock. At the top is a button labeled Turn Passcode On.

Tap that, and you’ll be prompted to enter a four-digit passcode. Type the passcode in twice, and some additional settings will become available.

You can change how long the device has to be inactive before the passcode is required again. By default, this is set to require the code immediately, but you can set it to a range of durations such as after 1 minute, 5 minutes or 15 minutes. Shorter times are more secure, since it gives someone else less time to pick up your device before they’ll need to enter the passcode.

If you don’t think a four-digit code is secure enough, you can also use a more complex password with numbers, letters and symbols. To do so, turn off the setting called Simple Passcode. After turning that off, you’ll be asked to enter your current passcode, if you have one set, then your new password twice. Once you have done that, in order to unlock your device, the password you set will be required, which is more secure than a four-digit number.

One final security measure you can add is the option to erase all the data on the device if the passcode is entered incorrectly 10 times. This ensures someone can’t methodically try every number until they hit upon the correct code, since chances are the data will be wiped before they get there.

Be Sensible With Your Data

Obviously you can’t just rely on passcodes to keep information secure. You have to make sure you aren’t careless; leaving addresses or phone numbers in the Notes app means they’re available for anyone using your iPhone to see. Similarly, don’t store important information such as credit card numbers or pin numbers on the device at all, unless you are 100 percent sure the data is encrypted and secured using a password. The best way of storing extremely sensitive data like that is in your memory, rather than keeping it stored somewhere accessible.

Also be wary of using password managers designed for iOS. Some of them don’t encrypt your data at all, and only hide it behind an insecure passcode. Other services store your information on their own server rather than on your device, which means it’s susceptible to data theft if the service gets hacked, which is what just happened to LastPass, for example.

Wipe the Data Remotely

If your iOS device does happen to fall into the wrong hands, you can use Apple’s free Find My iPhone service to locate the device and wipe any data on it. Find My iPhone is available to all MobileMe subscribers, and is also available to non-subscribers with an iPhone 4 or an iPad. To set up Find My iPhone on your device, go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars and choose Add Account. Then enter either your MobileMe credentials or your Apple ID (the same one you use for the iTunes store) and choose to turn on Find My iPhone.

Now if your device gets lost or stolen, you can find where it is, and if necessary, wipe everything on it. To do so, open the MobileMe website,, in your browser, log in and go to the Find My iPhone tab. You’ll see a list of the devices that you have set up with Find My iPhone, and you can click on a device’s name to show its location on a map.

You can then click the blue triangle icon next to the name on the map to see more options. To completely wipe the selected device, choose Wipe. Everything on the device will be erased, and it’ll be as if it were new — nothing is left behind. Don’t worry, if you then get your device back, you can restore from a backup using iTunes.

Got any other tips for securing data on your iOS devices? Share them in the comments.