Apple symbol with a lock.

How to secure your iPhone, iPad, and other Apple devices

So you got a shiny new Apple device! While it’s not the most fun part of your acquisition, the first thing you should do is set up the built-in security features on your new iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer to protect your device and your privacy. We walk you through a few of the security essentials on your Apple product.

Set a complex passcode

It’s convenient to unlock your iPhone or iPad with Face ID, which uses facial recognition, and Touch ID, which is now only on older models and lets you use your fingerprint. But these are considered less secure than using a passcode the old-fashioned way. With Face ID, someone could unlock your device by pointing it at your face or even a photograph, and fingerprint copies are not unheard of. 

Even if you use Face ID or Touch ID, you still have to set a passcode in case your fingerprint isn’t working properly (we’ve all been there) or you can’t face the camera at the moment. Whatever method you choose, make sure you set a long passcode (eight characters is about right), ideally alphanumeric, to increase the difficulty of someone cracking the code even using software. To set or change your passcode on iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > Face ID (or Touch ID) and Passcode.

What most people don’t know is that setting a passcode also encrypts all data on your device by default. That means even if someone tries to bypass the code by physically breaking your device open to access its memory, the data inside would still be unreadable. The biggest benefit of encrypting your data is that the encryption key is mathematically tied to your passcode that only you know, such that even Apple can’t crack it. 

The same rules apply to your Mac computer: Set a complex password to unlock your laptop or desktop every time you wake it up. Go to the Apple menu > System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General.

Enable two-factor authentication on Apple ID

Two-factor authentication, which requires you to enter a second code (in addition to your password) to access an account, is available for your Apple ID. To enable it, go to Settings > [your name] > Password & Security and tap Turn On Two-Factor Authentication.

Now you’ll be required to enter your password and a six-digit verification code—automatically displayed on another trusted Apple device or sent to your phone number—to gain access to your Apple ID whenever you sign in on a new device. This means that even if an attacker steals your Apple ID password, they won’t be able to access your account unless they’ve also physically stolen your phone or other device. 

Back up and encrypt your files

First of all, it’s always a good idea to backup your files. If you lose your device or it dies unexpectedly, you’ll still be able to access your photos, chats, and anything else in the cloud or on an external drive. With encrypted backups, even the storage provider (in the case of iCloud, that would be Apple) can’t access them.

The good news is, if you back up your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch using iCloud, that data is already encrypted with a minimum of 128-AES encryption. However, if you make a local backup of your mobile device to your Mac computer, that data isn’t encrypted by default. To encrypt a backup in Finder or iTunes (for Macs with macOS Mojave or earlier), select “Encrypt iPhone/iPad/iPod backup” in the Backups preferences pane—this encrypts all backups from then on. 

Use the Find My app

Find My is another great security tool for your iOS device. It’s incredibly useful when your device gets lost or stolen. 

With Find My set up, you can command your device to play a sound to track it down if it’s ever lost in your house somewhere. You can also locate your stolen or lost device on a map, lock it, or remotely erase it. You control Find My on a lost device through another Apple device you own, or by signing in at iCloud.com/find.

Even if your device is powered off or not connected, anything you do from Find My will take effect the next time the device goes online.

To enable this feature, go to Settings > [your name] > Find My and sign in with your Apple ID if prompted. Then, turn on “Find My [your device]”, as well as Find My network and Send Last Location to make the most of this security feature.

Speaking of erasing data on your mobile devices, that’s not a bad first step if you’re planning on selling or giving away your iPhone, iPod, or iPad soon. Follow this guide to wiping the data from your device before it leaves your hands.

Want more Apple security tips?

We highly recommend getting the ExpressVPN app on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac to keep your online connections secure from anyone trying to see what you’re doing.

Check out a few of our other posts on protecting your privacy when using Apple products:

Comments

  1. You might also want to advocate the use of Little Snitch, a powerful outward firewall for macs which allows you to control what sites your mac sends data to rather than what is sent to your mac

  2. Good article but very out of date (several years!) on securing macs. No mention of filevault or that there is no longer a secure delete option for hard drives because it doesn’t work for ssd storage. Perhaps you need to update this section?

  3. What a great and comprehensive piece! Thank you so kindly for sharing and providing links to the protocols. ExpressVPN is becoming my go to for news feeds and cool little tips, such as these!

  4. Impressive! Article “How to Secure Your Apple Devices” was absolutely prescient given the current DoJ pressure on Apple.

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