How to Strengthen Your iPhone's Passcode

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

iPhone lock screen

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

The procedure we share works on iOS 7 and newer and was 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 always recommended, most people don't want to make things overly complicated. Simply changing from a simple passcode to the iPhone complex passcode option will boost your security because enabling the alphanumeric characters significantly increases the total possible combination that a thief or hacker would have to try in order to break into your phone.

If you use the simple four-digit numeric password, there are only 10,000 possible combinations — 104 = 10,000. That may seem high, but a determined hacker or thief will probably 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 enormously.

The total number of possible combos for the complex passcode option is mindbogglingly huge, given that each character in the code expands from 10 to 77 potential values. If you use a passcode of just 12 alphanumeric characters, the number of potential combinations grows to 7712, or approximately 43,439,888,520,000,000,000,000. Even adding a few more characters, therefore, presents a huge roadblock for a hacker trying to guess all the possible combinations.

How to Enable a Complex Passcode on Your iOS Device

Configure a stronger passcode through the Settings app:

  1. Tap Settings > Face ID & Passcode. On iPhone 8 devices or some iPad models, you may see Touch ID & Passcode instead. Enter your existing passcode if you have one to access the next Settings screen.

  2. To turn on the passcode, tap Turn Passcode On. You'll be prompted to enroll a passcode. Tap the Passcode Options link to select a passcode type. After you pick a type, you'll be prompted to enter it, and then to re-enter it to confirm it.

  3. If you've already set a passcode but wish to make it stronger, select the Change Passcode link from the Face ID & Passcode screen and 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 wish to have a longer window of time before it is required. This option helps you to balance security versus usability. You could create a longer passcode and set a longer window of time before it's required so you won't be constantly entering it, or you could create a shorter passcode and require it immediately. Either choice has its pros and cons, it just depends on what level of security vs. convenience you are willing to accept.

If your device supports it, consider enrolling either a fingerprint or your face in the Touch ID or the Face ID system. Those tools, which are considered secure, work in lieu of your passcode.