iOS 7 preview: Activation lock aims to keep out the crooks

Find my iPhone - also referred to as Find my iPod or Find my iPad on those devices - has always been a great way to help you find your phone or tablet under a sofa, in another room, or even at a restaurant, coffee shop, theater, or similar public place. It's been great for lost devices. Stolen devices, not so much. Now, with iOS 7, Apple is addressing theft with what they hope is a powerful new deterrent - activation lock. With Talk Mobile 2013 security week underway, lets see how it stands up...

Here's what Apple (opens in new tab) has to say about Find my iPhone for iOS 7 in general:

Losing your iPhone feels lousy. Thankfully, Find My iPhone can help you get it back. But if it looks like that’s not going to happen, new security features in iOS 7 make it harder for anyone who’s not you to use or sell your device. Now turning off Find My iPhone or erasing your device requires your Apple ID and password. Find My iPhone can also continue to display a custom message, even after your device is erased. And your Apple ID and password are required before anyone can reactivate it. Which means your iPhone is still your iPhone. No matter where it is.

iOS 7 preview: Activation lock aims to keep out the crooks

And here's what Apple's show off so far:

  • Find my Friends will, following the launch of iOS 7, sport a newly redesigned iOS 7-style interface. ('Natch.)
  • There's a Lost Mode which track down your iOS device and shows its approximate location on a map, much as it always had. There are also handy buttons to enter Lost Mode, and well as to play a sound and to remotely wipe the device.

  • If a thief wants to try and disable Find my iPhone, or wipe the phone to disable tracking, activation lock will force them to enter your Apple ID and password first, and if not entered, prevent any software tampering with the tracking.

  • If you remotely wipe a device, you can re-activate it using activation lock and your Apple ID and password as well.

iPhones and iPads are valuable targets for criminals and activation lock looks like a good way to make the devices less attractive. While it probably won't do much to slow down crooks who want to grab iPhones and iPads for parts, anyone hoping to resell a functional device now has to worry about circumventing activation lock as well.

Activation lock has already been put through its paces by the San Francisco District Attorney which is promising, though we'll have to wait and see how it performs, long term, before we have any idea how successful it in the real world.

Still, doing something is far better than doing nothing. Kudos to Apple for trying to make iOS devices higher hanging fruit.

Activation lock ships as part of iOS 7 this fall. The updated Find my Friends app will presumably be released at the same time as well.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Added security is always welcome.
  • Has anyone tried restoring a phone in iTunes after its been locked/wiped etc. Does this update prevent thieves using iTunes also to get a stolen phone up and running again?
  • Yes. If you restore an iPhone now using iOS 7 it is required to enter your Apple ID and password to restore.
  • No it is only enabled for no ability to restore without password if you put phone in lost mode. put if not in lost more through findmyiphone you can still be able to do a restore without the apple id & password
  • I have had to restore/ wipe my nieces iPod touch numerous times because she locks herself out by forgetting her pass lock. As long as this doesn't affect that situation then it sounds like a great idea.
  • I would upgrade to iOS7 just to get this feature alone. I wonder however, if it's worth upgrading on my iPhone 4S when it will come on the next iPhone, and that's definitely one reason to stay with the platform?
  • These features will come on all iPhones that can install iOS7, and a fair guess says that your phone will be supported. That's called a software update Or, you can buy the new model for bigger screen like the 5, faster processor etc at the cost of a new phone. That's called an upgrade
  • This feature makes me feel better. At least if my phone is stolen it is one more way to have a chance at a last laugh.
  • How is this going to work in corporate environments where the company owns the device? We encourage all our corporate iPhone users to setup Find my iPhone, but we sometimes get their devices back when they upgrade (if they're still usable) or when an employee gets let go. So are businesses now stuck with unusable devices in these situations??
  • If it's company owned then the company should also own the AppleID that goes with the phone.
  • Except that would mean that our users couldn't purchase their own apps (or else they'd lose them if they were let go) and we would have to create Apple ID's for each user (or else they'd all end up with each others' data and we'd run into the max device limit) and maintain the passwords and hope that they didn't go and change them.... Not exactly practical.
  • I wouldn't be surprised if someone releases a workaround within a week of the iOS7 release (being pessimistic).
  • What happens when someone forces a new firmware. So if they manually force iOS 6 in the device an then upgrade back to iOS 7? Or if they jailbreak the device?
  • How about putting the device into DFU mode and restoring the OS via iTunes?
  • Whenever I've downgraded from an iOS 7 beta back to iOS 6, it still asks for the Apple ID.
  • Dfu mode don't work no matter how you wipe it .. It will need your iTunes and password to activate again