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Tim Cook's open letter about the FBI's attempts to access a locked iPhone 5c have me wondering a fairly simple question that I haven't found an answer for:

Assumptions:

  • I have an encrypted iPhone
  • It is set to wipe after 10 failed passcode attempts
  • It is currently locked
  • I only use Apple-approved methods

Question:

Can I update iOS on the device without unlocking it and without losing/wiping the data?

Update:

As an aside to the actual question, I see that the FBI is not trying to do what I'm asking. They are asking for a version of iOS that they would load directly into RAM and run from RAM without making any modifications to either the OS partition or the user partition.

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  • I wondered this exact same thing. If the phone is locked how will it get updated. It seemed to me Apple argument should be much simpler... Can't instead of won't.
    – Tyson
    Feb 18, 2016 at 17:17

4 Answers 4

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You cannot update iOS on a locked device. When you try to update via iTunes(which is the only possible in this situation), it will ask you to unlock the iPhone. It is simply not possible to update or restore a locked iPhone or any iOS device.

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  • This appears to be correct when the phone is running normally, but not if the phone is put into recovery mode. +1 regardless. Feb 19, 2016 at 14:19
  • @JoelRondeau Correct.
    – Pratik
    Feb 19, 2016 at 19:13
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Update: I have discussed this with someone who has specifically tried this. I now understand what happens here.

The answer is no, with one notable exception.

Having looked through Apple's documentation, I have found conflicting information.

First, the iOS Security Guide describes going into Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) mode and Recovery mode. It states that from either mode, the device must be restored to factory default settings. However, that is in direct conflict with the link it provides to recovery mode.

The Link from the iOS security guide puts you on this Apple support page. On this page it states that if you choose the Update option,

iTunes will try to reinstall iOS without erasing your data.

I now know this line to be a simplification. In this scenario, when iTunes reinstalls iOS, it's only option is to restore the iPhone to factory default settings.

If you have logged into your phone but haven't rebooted it, and you have previously synced it via iTunes, you can backup the contents using the same computer. So in this case iTunes will backup the contents, reinstall iOS with a restore to factory default settings, then restore the contents from the backup.

Once the iPhone is rebooted, you can only restore to factory default settings. You can restore the contents of a previously made backup, but you cannot backup the data from the phone.

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Yes you can.

Place iPhone in DFU mode while connected to a Mac.

find it in finder. And there press Restore iPhone. You can then upgrade the iOS while restoring.

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No, you can not update iOS on a locked phone. Because it's a protection mechanisms from Apple. Hope this helps.

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