Forgetting your iPhone’s passcode (or alphanumeric password) is a serious situation, and certainly an inconvenience. But it isn’t necessarily a disaster. In this tutorial we explain how to ‘hack’ or bypass the passcode on both iPhones and iPads, and change it to something else that’s hopefully more memorable. You’ll have to restore your device, wiping the contents, but at least you’ll be able to use it again.
For those with a bit more confidence–and a legitimate reason to want to access an iPhone for which you haven’t got the code–then there are other options available. We discuss the use (and limitations) of the sophisticated forensic software used by law enforcement agencies to ‘crack’ iDevices.
Finally, we cover the basics of removing or resetting the passcode once you’ve managed to access your iOS device.
Is it legal to hack an iPhone passcode?
Bypassing passcodes, generally speaking, is veering towards what we’d call the “black hat” (or legally questionable) side of tech support, but plenty of people forget their passcodes. In these instances, you’ll need to get around the code to use your own device. There’s nothing illegal about that.
If you’re reading this page because you stole an iPhone and then discovered it was locked, however, you are very obviously breaking the law, and you will find nothing to help you in this article.
Restore your device using Recovery Mode
To change an iPhone passcode in the normal way, you need to know the original passcode… which isn’t much help here. If you haven’t got the passcode, the best and simplest solution is to restore and start again. This removes your personal data in the process, but if you’ve got access to a recent backup you can restore it afterwards and the device will be as good as new. (If you don’t regularly back up your data, something we recommend to all iPhone and iPad owners, the future is less bright. But it’s still better to have access to a wiped-clean device than no access to one that’s full of data.)
The key to this method is that we will restore the device from Recovery Mode, which is possible without the passcode. This wipes the device completely and installs the latest version of iOS or iPadOS from scratch. Note that you will need the Apple ID and password that were used to originally set up the device. That’s the password for the Apple ID, of course, rather than the passcode for the device; they’re two separate things.
Follow these steps to restore an iPad or iPhone from Recovery Mode:
- Charge up the device to at least 20 percent.
- If you’re using a Mac running macOS Catalina or later, you’ll be using Finder for this process. Open Finder, then connect your iPad or iPhone to the Mac. If you’re using a PC, or a Mac running macOS Mojave or earlier, you’ll be using iTunes instead, and you’ll first need to close down iTunes if it’s open. Connect your iDevice, and then (re-)open iTunes if it doesn’t do so automatically.
- Now force-restart your iDevice. The method varies depending on the model. If it’s an iPhone 8 or later (in other words anything released in 2017 or afterwards), you should press and release volume up, press and release volume down, then press and hold the power button until you see the Recovery Mode screen. If it’s an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, simply hold volume down and the power button at the same time, until you see the Recovery Mode screen. For any other iDevice, you should hold the Home and power buttons at the same time.
- You’ll now get the option to Update or Restore. The former takes slightly longer because it downloads the latest iOS software, but either works for our purposes.
- Set up your device as normal.
Your device will now be up and running as before but without a passcode. You may be prompted to enter your Apple ID, depending on the version of iOS you’re running.
Out of interest, if you decide at some point in the future that you want to remove a passcode from an iDevice–which for security reasons we don’t recommend–you simply go into Settings > Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode in models with a home button), then tap ‘Turn Passcode Off’. But you will need to know the passcode in order to do this.
Use forensic software
Every so often someone discovers (or claims to discover) a technique to bypass the Apple passcode. This is sometimes a sort of ‘finger-tapping’ trick that enables the person to access something on a locked device: typically either Contacts or Messages. This isn’t hacking the passcode, it’s merely bypassing it.
Forget the finger tricks you’ll see in YouTube videos. It is possible to hack the passcode, but you need serious software to do so. This is known as forensics software because law enforcement agencies use it when analysing mobile phones used by suspects in serious criminal cases. Software of this kind is sophisticated, complex, frequently expensive, and massive overkill (and potentially illegal) for most consumer uses. But if you feel certain this is for you, there are options you can consider.
We tested Elcomsoft iOS Forensic Toolkit, for instance, and found it a reliable means of cracking an iPad’s passcode. The software is not available to the general public and you will need to apply for a license (and show your credentials). Read this review of Elcomsoft iOS Forensic Toolkit for more information about how forensics software works.
If you’re looking for something a bit less intimidating, consider Tenorshare 4uKey, which promises to bypass iPhone and iPad passwords instantly. We’ve not tried the software ourselves, but there’s a free trial available so it can’t hurt to try.
How do law enforcement unlock iPhones?
iPhone passcodes hit the headlines in March 2016, with the news that the FBI had obtained an iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, but couldn’t get past the passcode security. The Feds managed to get a court order instructing Apple to assist them and break into the phone. Apple refused.
As the case progressed, public opinion started to turn against the law enforcement officials, and the day before the Department of Justice was due to present its arguments, it was announced that actually, they didn’t need Apple’s help after all, and that a third party had agreed to do the hacking for them. A week later the case was dissolved, and the FBI announced it had opened up the phone without Apple’s help.
Apple asked how this was done–arguing that if a security vulnerability was exploited this represented a danger to other iPhone owners and needed to be patched–but the FBI refused to say, even when a Freedom of Information lawsuit was filed by a number of media organisations. A court subsequently ruled that these details were national security secrets and therefore exempt from disclosure.
It’s comforting for iPhone owners that Apple is so determined to protect their privacy that it will stare down the might of the U.S. government, but worrying that someone has worked out how to bypass the security. And we don’t know who or how. It was initially reported that the Israeli firm Cellebrite bypassed the passcode, but the Washington Post later claimed professional hackers used a zero-day vulnerability.
Can current iPhones be hacked?
It was believed at the time that the method, whatever it was, would not work on later models of the iPhone: the iPhone 5s and later have superior security features (the Secure Enclave) and Apple has claimed its own engineers wouldn’t be able to break into these devices, even if they wanted to. But that’s been thrown in doubt by the news that US law enforcement later unlocked an iPhone 11 and an iPhone 11 Pro Max, yet still carried on demanding that Apple give it backdoor access to the iPhone range.
It’s an odd situation, but as TheNextWeb explains, it’s all about time and money; it took the FBI two months to get into that iPhone 11, and former director James Comey has implied that it cost well over a million dollars to crack the iPhone 5c in 2016. In other words, unless the person hacking your handset is incredibly rich and/or incredibly patient, your privacy should be assured.
We discuss these matters in far more depth in two other articles: How to protect your iPhone privacy and How secure is the iPhone?