In other words, if my iOS device is stolen, will the person be able to get my data by pluging it in a PC and use some trick (or by being able to jailbreak my device while it is protected with a passcode lock)?

For the discussion, please assume my iOS device:

  • is in airplane mode, so I can't remote wipe.
  • not currently jailbroken
  • 2
    Which iOS device are you referring to? Devices (starting with 3GS) has hardware encryption (which user cannot disable) AFAIK. Feb 29, 2012 at 19:08
  • @Globalnomad I have an iPod touch 4, but I thing that's the same for all iOS 5 Feb 29, 2012 at 20:11
  • Some, but not all, data is available using iFunBox (i-funbox.com) on a non-jailbroken device. More data is open to you if you're jailbroken. However I'm not sure how it handles locked devices, as I never lock mine. Mar 1, 2012 at 23:39

3 Answers 3


In general, no. iOS devices where you have enabled hardware data protection on iOS 4 or later require the correct passcode to be entered. If you haven't enabled a passcode, the data on the phone is easily available to the thief assuming they have either minimal training and/or money.

So, as long as they can't guess the passcode from looking at smudges in the glass or recording your motions before the device is stolen - you are as secure as the passcode you have chosen. Most times when the government needs to bypass the passcode locks, they get a warrant for your home computer and take the key that iTunes uses to unlock the device and use specialized software to send that key.

Once someone is willing to spend thousands of dollars on either specialized hardware and software or thousands of dollars to hire someone trained in iPhone forensics to do the work, the chances of "cracking" into the device are higher, but still not assured if you have chosen a good passcode and not allowed your keys to be stolen by a backup to iCloud or let the thief get to your computer as well.

  • 1
    +1 for stealing passwords in MTM (man in the middle) attack between iOS device and iCloud. Feb 29, 2012 at 19:24

One principle to remember is that no form of security is perfect. If someone has your device in their physical protection and has sufficient skill and/or the right tools, they will be able to get your data.

One example - in an article titled "Limitations of Data Protection in iOS 4", Professor Anthony Vance from BYU notes that:

Updated August 6, 2010: Elcomsoft has announced that its iPhone Password Breaker tool can recover iPhone keychains (probably the escrow keybag) from password-protected iPhone backups.

While this announcement is dated and relates to iOS backups on the computer and the security in iOS 5 have improved, tools that can be used to extract data has also improved. Further, iOS 5 still has some security flaws, as this article points out - one example is of the security bypass in iPad with Smart Covers.

Bottom line: you can't completely count on device security to ensure the protection your data if the device is in someone else's physical control.

  • 1
    It's interesting that many tools can crack an iOS device if they either have access to your computer or perhaps the backup files from your computer (but not necessarily the computer itself). Are there tools that can attack a locked iOS device successfully?
    – bmike
    Feb 29, 2012 at 19:28

1) Answer is yes, they may be able to get your data if you

  • are using a device model prior to iPhone 3GS.

  • jailbroken the device and didn't secure published security loopholes (google for more details).

  • didn't set Settings.app->General->Auto-Lock to a time period, and didn't set Settings.app->General->Passcode Lock->Erase Data to On after X number of unsuccessful password attempts.

  • didn't encrypt your backup (on your Mac or PC that has iTunes). Prior discussion Stop my old iPhone from backing up

2) Another question is will they be able to quickly make sense of the data. Prior to iPhone 3GS, yes; post 3GS, the data on the Flash Memory is hardware encrypted. Each successive (newer than 3GS) devices use encryption algorithms that are more computationally-expensive to decrypt, except perhaps for 3-letter government agencies whom Apple (by law) has to submit their encryption algorithms to.

  • 1
    I'm curious what laws govern source code access? Are you referring to getting an export license for encryption? I always figured the government can simply request the iCloud backups or grab the person's computer once they have their phone and feel they need to crack into it.
    – bmike
    Feb 29, 2012 at 19:30
  • Apple has to submit to Treasury Dept. encryption algorithms used in products that it sells within the US and exports. This is separate from court-approved requests (from Justice Dept, other law enforcement agencies, and DHS other intelligence branch of govt) for your data. Feb 29, 2012 at 19:38

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