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I asked a similar question on android.stackexchange.com and I'd like to see how the answer compares for iOS devices:

If my iPhone is stolen, can I remotely brick the thing, so resale value drops to zero?

For apps like Apple's Find My Phone, how feasible is it for a thief to remove the apps? The answer to this sort of motivates my asking the first question about bricking. The more possible it is to remove the remote tracking/data erasing apps, the higher incentive I might have to just brick the thing, cut my losses, and deprive the thief of any profit from his/her crime.

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You can't brick it, but you can wipe it to remove personal data. I think the ability to find a device is built into the OS, so it is not something a thief could remove or deactivate. –  Jason Feb 13 '12 at 20:06
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4 Answers 4

Before iOS 7 this was not possible or feasible since iTunes would restore an image of the OS that would be free from any locking. Now there is Activation Lock which neatly pre-empts any attempt to remove the Find My iPhone feature of iCloud. Effectively, with Find my iPhone, your device is effectively locked to your Apple ID.

For iOS 7 and later - enable Find My iPhone to prevent anyone else from erasing or using the device.


If my iOS 6 or less iPhone is stolen, can I remotely brick the thing, so resale value drops to zero?

No.

The best you can do is to wipe the data from the device with an app like Find My iPhone from Apple or the open source Prey application. The device will no longer contain your applications or personal data, but it will still function normally and the thief could then initialize it for their own use.

For apps like Apple's Find My Phone, how feasible is it for a thief to remove the apps?

Without wiping the device? Hard to impossible. And that's the whole point of these applications: to keep your data safe and the cost of losing the hardware. You're essentially cleaning it for them and getting it ready for their use or resale. But you're ensuring that they can't gain access to your personal data, your PayPal account, your bank accounts and anything else you might have your phone connected to.

In the UK, cell phone carriers will blacklist phones that are reported stolen so they can't be used on the network again. The bigger UK carriers do it. Not sure how common a practice it is in North America, or if carriers here are willing to do it all.

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Would you be willing to have this edited substantially to have iOS 6 and lower what you've written and an iOS 7 leader to explain activation lock? –  bmike Jan 11 at 5:53
    
Go for it. Answers are public domain, right? –  Ian C. Jan 11 at 18:35
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unfortunately this is not true all they have to do is put the phone into recovery mode plug it into the computer and re-download the latest IOS no passwords are required and poof they have a working iPhone then even if you've call Verizon or sprint to have a phone blacklisted there is an computer program that will un-blacklist it the best thing I can tell you is to look online immediately find out where your phone is and then go there immediately with cash in hand & buy your phone back.

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iOS 7 has made the scenario you list not workable. The OS restore still respects the activation lock. –  bmike Jan 11 at 5:52
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Since this question has already been bumped back to the front page, I might as well add some new information.

In the iOS 7 preview, Apple demoed a feature called Activation Lock. From the iOS 7 features page:

New security features in iOS 7 make it harder for anyone who’s not you to use or sell your device. Now turning off Find My iPhone or erasing your device requires your Apple ID and password. Find My iPhone can also continue to display a custom message, even after your device is erased. And your Apple ID and password are required before anyone can reactivate it. Which means your iPhone is still your iPhone. No matter where it is.

(Emphasis mine) If you remotely wiped a stolen device (to avoid loss of private data), the phone would prompt a thief to enter your Apple ID and password before it would reactivate. If they don’t know them, then the device is effectively bricked.

iOS 7 is still in developer preview and features are subject to change, but since that was mentioned in the WWDC keynote, I’d guess it’s here to stay. It also means that nobody has given Activation Lock a thorough testing, to see how easily it can be bypassed (or they have, but haven’t spoken about it because of the NDA). I would guess it will probably be beyond your common thief, thus providing an effective bricking mechanism.

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In the US, CDMA carriers (Sprint, Verizon) can blacklist the hardware. GSM carriers (AT&T) cannot (read: won't) do anything - if a thief has your stuff, they can do an iTunes restore, insert a new SIM and have a new phone. It's happened to me twice.

Your idea does sound really good though. I wouldn't be surprised if the jailbreak community has come up with a remote "self-destruct" button in case your hardware is stolen. Find my iPhone is more of a novelty than a tool. Law enforcement cannot use the location to get a warrant, so it still leads to nowhere...unless you're into vigilante justice

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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I would say that I have seen good success working with Law Enforcement in the US to track phones that are not wiped and have credible and actionable location information. You can increase the chance of the police investigating your case by offering to let them sign in to a device for real time tracking for the squad that will be following the device. Of course, whether any of this holds up in a court of law or passes warrant granting status is up to the lawyers, but I have seen more than 10 recoveries here in Minneapolis as the police force is aware of how iOS tracking works. –  bmike Feb 13 '12 at 20:55
    
That's cool...if only Detroit were as progressive in their approach lol. –  Thomas Mar 6 '12 at 18:27
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