How to Clone a Phone Without Ever Touching It

You don't even need to touch your phone to save all your data.

Two iPhones next to each other

 Don Arnold / Getty Images 

While Hollywood exaggerates hacking all the time, it's true you can make a perfect copy of someone's phone, or at least the most important parts, without even touching it. However, there are some differences between what you see in movies and how to clone a phone in reality. Here's how it works.

What Is Phone Cloning?

Phone cloning is copying the data and identity of one cell phone to another. Cloning can either be a backup of the entire phone, or it can just be the key identifiers of your phone. In the early days of mobile phones, when they were little more than radios, intercepting the signal often made cloning a simple prospect. All a hacker needed to do was tune in your phone on a ham radio and listen for the identifier.

It's more difficult on modern phones, in part because phones now use SIM cards, which come loaded with a secret code. This makes cloning your phone's identifiers, especially without plugging into it, much harder but not impossible.

Why Clone a Phone?

Copying a phone's identifying data is generally illegal across the world, but despite the technical and legal issues, people generally do it for a handful of reasons, with the most common being to retain the features of a phone, or to share a phone with somebody in their household without paying for a second line.

Never clone anyone else's phone, whether it's their identifiers or their data. The former is illegal, whatever people claiming to be private detectives on the internet insist, and the latter may be against the law depending on how you access the phone. 

Some also believe this makes their phone untraceable, but that's an urban legend. Each device has a unique radio fingerprint, and just by the nature of how it functions, it can easily be tracked.

These laws don't apply, it should be noted, to your phone's software or any data you put on your phone, such as photos you take, as duplicating that data won't allow another phone to listen in on your calls or share your number. Copying and transferring that data may be frowned on by your carrier or the phone manufacturer, and may violate terms of service or end-user license agreements (EULAs), but it's generally allowed, if for no other reason than it's usually difficult for these entities to track.

Cloning your phone's identifiers, even if you do it for yourself, may invalidate your contract with your carrier and result in your phone being shut off. In some cases, your carrier may even ban you from the service.

Before You Clone Your Phone

Back up your device using Android or iOS's built-in phone backup tools, like Android's system backup or iCloud. You should also back up specific data you're concerned about losing, such as family photos, on a separate service, just to ensure nothing crucial is lost.

If all you want to do is keep a complete version of the data on your phone, you can use these to load your data onto a new device. You may need to ask your carrier for a new SIM card, however. Contact their customer service department to discuss their policy.

How to Clone a Phone

To clone your phone, you'll need:

  • Your current device
  • The device you want to clone your phone onto
  • A PC or Mac

Set aside a large amount of time to do this, and ensure nobody will need you on the phone. Consider having a desktop and VoIP number available to make phone calls, receive texts while you wait.

Generally, phone cloning is done by downloading software such as CLONEit or Dr.Fone. These programs are generally designed to transfer a phone completely to a new device, not just the identifiers.

Consumer software is unlikely to copy your phone's identifiers for the legal reasons above. Be extremely suspicious of any app claiming to be able to do this, as it could be a “Trojan horse” to get you to install malicious software on your phone or someone else's.

Using Dr. Fone

What We Like

  • Flexible backup and restore.

  • Strong data erasing and backup options.

  • Speedy transfers of data between phones.

What We Don't Like

  • More effective on Android than iOS.

  • Needs a PC or Mac to access the full suite of features.

Dr.Fone offers tools that let you completely copy your phone to another device, or wipe data off a phone completely.

Using Cloneit

What We Like

  • Simple, two-step "batch copy" of a device.

  • Works without a PC as a "bridge."

What We Don't Like

  • Android only.

  • Both devices need CloneIt installed to work.

  • Needs a lot of permissions to work, which may give more security conscious people pause.

CLONEit simplifies the process even further; all you need to clone from one phone to the other is the software on both phones and a Wi-Fi connection for the two phones to share. Just set one phone to send data and the other to receive, and you're all set.

Once the process is complete, open the new device and see if everything transferred properly. If you find data has been corrupted, replace it with the backup tools, and enjoy your new phone.