How hackers and scammers break into iCloud-locked iPhones

“In 2013, Apple introduced a security feature designed to make iPhones less valuable targets to would-be thieves. An iPhone can only be associated to one iCloud account, meaning that, in order to sell it to someone else (or in order for a stolen phone to be used by someone new) that account needs to be removed from the phone altogether. A stolen iPhone which is still attached to the original owner’s iCloud account is worthless for personal use or reselling purposes (unless you strip it for parts), because at any point the original owner can remotely lock the phone and find its location with Find My iPhone. Without the owner’s password, the original owner’s account can’t be unlinked from the phone and the device can’t be factory reset,” Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler report for Motherboard. “This security feature explains why some muggers have been demanding passwords from their victims.”

“The iCloud security feature has likely cut down on the number of iPhones that have been stolen, but enterprising criminals have found ways to remove iCloud in order to resell devices. To do this, they phish the phone’s original owners, or scam employees at Apple Stores, which have the ability to override iCloud locks,” Cox and Koebler report. “Thieves, coders, and hackers participate in an underground industry designed to remove a user’s iCloud account from a phone so that they can then be resold.”

“To be clear, ‘iCloud lock’ and a device’s passcode are two different things. The iPhone passcode will unlock the screen, whereas the iCloud password can be used to remove features such as Find My iPhone, Activation Lock, and to associate the phone with a new Apple account, which is critical when a phone is resold,” Cox and Koebler report. “There are many listings on eBay, Craigslist, and wholesale sites for phones billed as ‘iCloud-locked,’ or ‘for parts’ or something similar. While some of these phones are almost certainly stolen, many of them are not.”

Tons more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Beyond the criminality of stealing iOS devices and phishing iCloud passwords or selling stolen devices for parts, here’s Apple’s guide for “What to do before you sell, give away, or trade in your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch,” so at least legitimate trade-ins and resales will work.

California Senate passes mandatory smartphone ‘kill switch’ bill – May 9, 2014
Will Apple’s ‘kill switch’ tamp down iPhone thefts? – May 4, 2014
San Francisco District Attorney to Apple: Enable Activation Lock on every iPhone by default – December 18, 2013
Attorneys General for New York and San Francisco strongly urge iPhone and iPad users to download iOS 7 – September 19, 2013
S.F. district attorney optimistic over Apple, Samsung progress on anti-theft tech for smartphones – July 23, 2013
U.S. State and federal governments test Apple’s iOS 7 activation lock feature – July 18, 2013
U.S. officials call on Apple, other mobile device makers to help stop smartphone theft – June 6, 2013
The New York Times tries to blame Apple for smartphone thefts – May 2, 2013

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Lynn Weiler” for the heads up.]


  1. Employees at the Apple Stores are NOT permitted, nor do they have the capability, to unlock an iPhone which someone who walks in claims is their’s but who cannot recall his passcode or AppleID to unlock it.

    Ergo, the employees can’t be scammed into unlocking it. Similarly, phishing the owner of a stolen iPhone is a rare, after-the-fact occurrence event because how is a thief or fence going to know who to phish for the appropriate AppleID for any specific stolen iPhone unless the thief already knows the email or social media addresses of the owner.

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