How to Strengthen Your iPhone's Passcode

It's time to replace that 4-digit passcode with something better

Many people use the iPhone's simple passcode option, which displays a number pad and requires a four-to-six-digit number to access the iPhone. The iPhone iOS operating system provides a more robust passcode option that significantly enhances the device's security.

Instructions in this article apply to iOS 7 and newer and were tested with iOS 12. Previous versions of iOS, which are no longer supported, also allowed for complex passcodes, but with a 37-character limit.

Why Complex Passcodes Matter

While creating a complex password is recommended, most people don't want to make things complicated. Changing from a simple passcode to the iPhone complex passcode option boosts security because enabling the alphanumeric characters increases the combinations that a thief or hacker would have to try to break into a phone.

The simple four-digit numeric password has 10,000 possible combinations — 104 = 10,000. That may seem high, but a determined hacker or thief may guess it in a few hours and an automated scanner can guess it in less than a second. Turning on the iOS complex passcode option increases the possible combinations.

The total number of possible combinations for the complex passcode option is huge, each character in the code expands from 10 to 77 potential values. In a passcode of 12 alphanumeric characters, the number of potential combinations grows to 7712, or approximately 43,439,888,520,000,000,000,000. Adding a few more characters presents a huge roadblock for a hacker trying to guess all the possible combinations.

How to Enable a Complex Passcode on Your iOS Device

To configure a stronger passcode through the Settings app:

  1. Tap Settings > Face ID & Passcode. On iPhone 8 devices or some iPad models, tap Touch ID & Passcode.

  2. Enter your existing passcode, if you have one.

  3. To turn on the passcode, tap Turn Passcode On. You'll be prompted to enroll a passcode.

  4. Tap the Passcode Options link to select a passcode type. After you choose a type, you're prompted to enter it, then prompted to re-enter it to confirm it.

  5. If you set a passcode but want to make it stronger, select the Change Passcode link from the Face ID & Passcode screen, then tap the Passcode Options link when you enter the new code.

    Passcode Options in iOS

Considerations

For maximum security, within the Face ID & Passcode settings screen, set the Require Password option to Immediately unless you want a longer period of time before it is required. This option helps you to balance security versus usability. Either create a longer passcode and set a longer amount of time before it's required so you won't constantly need to enter it, or create a shorter passcode and require it immediately. Either choice has its pros and cons, it depends on what level of security versus convenience you are willing to accept.

If the device supports it, enroll either a fingerprint or your face in the Touch ID or the Face ID system. Those tools, which are considered secure, can be used instead of a passcode.