Students use school-owned devices by the hundreds of millions worldwide. And every district—sometimes every school—has a different policy about the way in which an associated account is set up, whether it’s an Apple ID, a Google account, or an Amazon login. For Apple IDs, an appropriate level of security may accidentally restrict students’ access to some of their data until school—or perhaps some minor amount of normalcy—resumes.
The scenario one student wrote Mac 911 about involves two-factor authentication (2FA). Their school issues iPads, which had to be returned before schools were shut down. The iPads synced with iCloud, and students do have access to the Apple ID account and password that is used with each iPad. However, this scholar’s school or district IT department enabled 2FA, which is normally an excellent idea for account security.
However, the student lacks any trusted device with which to confirm a log in when they attempt to access their account via iCloud.com to retrieve photos synced from the iPad. They don’t have physical access to the iPad, which is trusted. The phone number associated with the account is connected either to a teacher or the IT department. And they can’t reach anyone at the school to give them the second factor code by voice or text.
If they could, they could then conceivably set up a separate macOS login on a Mac they had access to and use the Apple ID to set up iCloud on that Mac account, authorizing it with the help of the school or teacher. That account would then act as a trusted device, providing ongoing access.
The school year in most places will start soon, remotely or not, and this kind of problem is a good reminder for students, parents, teachers, and school IT staff to check how Apple ID access for school-based accounts offered to students will work in the future, so students won’t find their data locked up.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Jacob.
Ask Mac 911
We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to firstname.lastname@example.org screen captures as appropriate, and whether you want your full name used. Not every question will be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.