How to Strengthen Your iPhone's Passcode

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

iPhone lock screen

If you're like many people, you may not have a passcode to lock your iPhone. Many people don't even bother enabling them. If you do have a passcode on your iPhone, you are likely using the iPhone's "simple passcode" option, which brings up a number pad and requires you to enter a 4 to 6 digit number to access your iPhone.

Given that most people's phones now hold as much (or possibly more) personal information on them than their home computers do, consider something a little harder to break than 0000, 2580, 1111, or 1234. If one of these numbers is your passcode you might as well just turn the passcode feature off because these are some of the most common and easily guessed passcodes in use today.

The iPhone iOS operating system provides a more robust passcode option. Finding this feature can be a challenge because it's not the easiest setting to locate

You're probably thinking to yourself "phone passcodes are such a hassle, I don't want to spend forever typing in a password to log into my phone". This is where you have to make the choice between the security of your data or the convenience of quick access. It's up to you to how much risk you're willing to take for the sake of convenience. But don't fret, if you're using TouchID, it really won't be a big hassle anyway because you'll only end up using the passcode if TouchID isn't working.

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/symbols instead of just numbers-only 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 4-digit numeric password, there are only 10,000 possible combinations. That may seem high, but a determined hacker or thief will probably guess it in a few hours. Turning on the iOS complex passcode option increases the possible combinations enormously. iOS allows for up to 37 characters (instead of the 4 character limit in simple passcode option) with 77 possible alphanumeric/symbol characters (versus 10 for a simple passcode).

The total number of possible combos for the complex passcode option is mind-bogglingly huge (77 to the 37th power) and could take a hacker several lifetimes to figure out (if you used all 37 digits). Even adding a few more characters (6-8) is a huge roadblock to overcome for a hacker trying to guess all the possible combinations.

Let's get to it.

To Enable a Complex Passcode on Your iOS Device

From the home menu, tap the settings icon (Grey icon with a couple of gears in it).

  1. Tap on the "General" settings button.

  2. From the "General" settings menu, choose the "Passcode Lock" item.

  3. Tap the "Turn Passcode On" option at the top of the menu or enter your current passcode if you already have a passcode enabled.

  4. Set the "Require Password" option to "Immediately" unless you wish to have a longer window of time before it is required. This is where you have the chance 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.

  5. Change the "Simple Passcode" to the "OFF" position. This will enable the complex passcode option.

  6. Enter your current 4-digit passcode if prompted.

  7. Type in your new complex passcode when prompted and tap the "Next" button.

  8. Type in your new complex passcode a second time to confirm it and tap the "Done" button.

  9. Press the home button and then press the wake/sleep button to test out your new passcode. If you messed something up or lose your passcode check out this article on how to get back into your iPhone from a device backup.

If your phone is an iPhone 5S or newer, consider using Touch ID, coupled with a stronger passcode for added security.