How to Protect Data on Lost or Stolen iPhone

6 Steps to Take When Someone Else Has Your iPhone

Having your iPhone stolen is bad enough. You're out the hundreds of dollars that the phone originally cost and now you need to buy a new one. But the idea that the thief also has access to your personal data stored on the phone is even worse.

If you're facing this situation, here are some steps you can take before your phone is lost or stolen, and a few after it is, that can protect your personal data.

RELATED: What To Do When Your iPhone Is Stolen

1
Before a Theft: Set a Passcode

iphone security
image credit: Tang Yau Hoong/Ikon Images/Getty Images

Setting a passcode on your iPhone is a basic security measure you can—and should—take right now (if you haven't already done so). With a passcode set, someone trying to access your phone will need to enter the code to get at your data. If they don't know the code, they won't get in.

In iOS 4 and higher, you can turn off the 4-digit Simple Passcode and use a more complex—and thus more secure—combination of letters and numbers. While it's best if you do this before your iPhone is stolen, you can use Find My iPhone to set a passcode over the Internet. 

If your iPhone has the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, be sure to enable that, too. 

2
Before a Theft: Set iPhone to Delete Data on Incorrect Passcode Entries

iPhone Passcode Settings

One way to really make sure that a thief can't get your data is to set your iPhone to automatically delete all its data when the passcode is entered incorrectly 10 times. If you're not good at remembering your passcode you may want to be careful, but this is one of the best ways to protect your phone. You can add this setting when you create a passcode, or follow these steps:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap Touch ID & Passcode
  3. Move the Erase Data slider to on/green.

3
After a Theft: Use Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone app
The Find My iPhone app in action.

Apple's Find My iPhone service, a free part of iCloud, is a major asset if you've had your iPhone stolen. You'll need an iCloud account, and to have enabled Find My iPhone on your device before your iPhone is stolen, but if you did that, you'll be able to:

  • Locate the phone on a map (often down to the building it's in) via GPS
  • Display a message on the phone's screen with instructions on where to return the phone
  • Have the phone play a sound (which is useful if you think it's nearby)
  • Set a passcode over the Internet
  • Delete all data on your phone over the Internet.

 

Related: Do you need the Find My iPhone app to use Find My iPhone?

4
After a Theft: Remove Credit Card From Apple Pay

Apple Pay
image copyright Apple Inc.

If you've set up Apple Pay on your iPhone, you should remove your payment cards from Apple Pay after your phone is stolen. It's not very likely that a thief will be able to use your card. Apple Pay is super secure because it uses the Touch ID finger scanner and it's extremely hard to fake a fingerprint with it, but better safe than sorry. Luckily, you can remove a card pretty easily using iCloud. When you get your phone back, just add it again.

5
After a Theft: Remotely Wipe Your Data with iPhone Apps

Remote wipe iPhone data
image credit: PM Images/The Image Bank/Getty Imges

Find My iPhone is a great service and comes free with the iPhone, but there are also nearly a dozen third-party apps available at the App Store to help you track down a lost or stolen iPhone. Some require annual or monthly subscriptions, some don't.

If you don't like Find My iPhone or iCloud, you should check out these services.

6
After a Theft: Change Your Passwords

change passwords
image credit: Yuri_Arcurs/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Once your phone's been stolen, you'll want to make sure to secure all aspects of your digital life, not just your phone.

This includes any accounts or other data that may be stored on your iPhone and thus accessible by the thief. Make sure to change your online passwords: email (to stop the thief from sending mail from your phone), iTunes/Apple ID, online banking, etc.

Better to limit the problems to your phone than let a thief steal even more from you.