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Banned From Apple? How To Remove iPhone Activation Lock

I removed iPhone activation lock, and it was a pain. Here's a guide on how I did it and the common pitfalls that you can avoid.

Jerry Zhang
Jerry Zhang
·

5 min read

Recently, I found an old iPhone 6 that I previously used for work. Having been an Android user for the past 7 years, I was curious to know what iPhones were like nowadays. I’m not a stranger to Apple products though, since I’m a Mac user. Plus, I recently repurposed an iPad, so I was curious if an iPhone would significantly improve the Apple experience.

However, the problem is that I have since left that job and don’t recall my old Apple ID’s password nor do I remember the phone number tied to that account.

Factory Resetting the iPhone

I attempted to reset the iPhone the normal way—through iTunes. After waiting for the device to erase, it looked as if I could set it up like brand new. Everything looked good so far.

Until I was greeted by the “Activation Lock” screen.

activation lock screen

Up to this point, I had consider myself to be fairly tech savvy. I thought I had done everything right so far. What happened?

Calling Apple Support

I phoned Apple Support and explained to them my struggles. They told me either I need to know the Apple ID credentials, the 2 factor authentication (have access to the phone or email), or show proof of purchase receipt. Otherwise, there was nothing they could do.

Wow. While I’m frustrated with my inability to unlock my own phone, I am simultaneously impressed that Apple has protected me from myself.

I mean, I have heard of Apple opposing FBI court orders to decrypt iPhones. But I never thought I would be in this situation, even if it’s my own phone. I too, now understand the feeling of helplessness the FBI felt when they couldn’t break into the iPhone.

Calling the Carrier

Since the support agent told me I either needed to know the phone number or the password, I tried some potential passwords. After none of them worked, I decided to go about cracking my old work phone number.

I looked on my current phone’s address book to see if I could find it there. It wasn’t there. I did such a good job of separating my work phone and personal phone’s content that I didn’t even have my work phone number on my personal phone. Plus, I didn’t use my work phone to make any personal calls either. Literally, I left no evidence whatsoever. Like a ninja.

The support agent suggested that I could call the carrier and provide the IMEI number, and see if they could figure out the phone number. She even offered to do the call for me and connect us on a bridge. How nice of her! Once she got ahold of the phone carrier, I provided the IMEI number. The carrier agent told me that there are some security questions I need to answer in order for him to disclose the phone number. Of course, after taking a few random guesses, I gave up.

Resetting the Account

I decided to contact my former company’s IT department to see if they might know. After a few email exchanges, I struck gold. They gave me the phone number!

Now I’m back in business. I called the support agent, brought up my case number, and eagerly updated her that I have new sacred information: the phone number. The support agent recommended I reset the Apple ID online.

After navigating to https://iforgot.apple.com/, entering my Apple ID, and entering the correct phone number, I was greeted with the following screen (initially 30 days, since I only took a screenshot later when I realized this was blog-worthy):

iforgot screen page

Again, frustrated. But impressed as well.

I told the support agent about the 30-day wait, and she told me that if Apple was able to verify anything sooner, the time might decrease. There was nothing more she could do, and this was to protect my privacy. So I thanked her for bringing me this far, and decided to wait it out.

Waiting for 30 Days…

No joke, this actually happened.

You would think that I would have given up by now. Even I thought this might have gotten a bit too ridiculous.

Every once in awhile, I would check the website just to see if the number went down faster than usual. But it didn’t.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

After 30 days, I was finally able to login to my Apple ID, disable the activation lock, and complete the setup of my iPhone.

Being a Mac user, I was very pleased with the nice integrations between iPhone and Mac. In addition, I also pulled out my old iPad that I haven’t used in awhile and the 3-way integration is really really nice.

Why is Activation Lock Good For Security?

First of all, if I were actually a thief that stole someone else’s iPhone with the intention of unlocking it and using it for myself, I would definitely have not gotten this far. At least not without significantly more effort.

Secondly, if I were also a thief but wanted to resell this iPhone to someone else, my customer would be disappointed when they learn that the iPhone is unusable. And I would lose my business. And I would stop stealing iPhones and start looking for other targets. Therefore, there would be less iPhone thefts overall.

Why is Slow Good For Security?

Let’s say the malicious user was able to steal an iPhone without multi-factor authentication enabled, obtain the Apple ID, obtain either the security question answers or the phone number. Then, they could reset the Apple ID. But they would still need to wait 30 days. If Apple finds anything suspicious about this reset, they can block this. So the actual iPhone user might decide to call Apple and report their lost phone. And it would be locked. Permanently.

When it comes to security, slow is good—malicious users look for low hanging fruit, and if it’s too much effort, they will give up to move onto another easier target.

For the more persistent, slow is also good—criminals take advantage of fast to slip between the cracks of a mistake.

Apple Support Staff is Resistant to Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering—or the art of using psychological manipulation to obtain confidential information—is an especially dangerous art these days. These types of attacks are on the rise, and Apple’s staff were well-trained to withstand social engineering.

No matter how hard I pushed and complained, they didn’t budge. That makes me confident that when someone else steals my phone, they will protect my information with integrity. A lesser staff without the proper training would easily succumb.

True Security

And finally, not even Apple themselves could unlock a locked iPhone. The most they can do is to reset somebody’s phone. When setting up an Apple ID, Apple gives you a few recovery mechanisms:

  • Phone number (if linked)
  • Access to one of your trusted devices
  • Recovery key

If you don’t have either of these, that Apple ID cannot be recovered. It even says on this Apple Support page.

I am confident that Apple won’t use my data, and they won’t release it to government agencies.

Conclusion

Initially, I didn’t intended to switch from Android to iPhone. I was using my Android just fine, with no problems whatsoever.

After going through this windy journey to unlock my old iPhone, I can personally attest that Apple is serious about their user’s security and data privacy. I’ve now fully converted into an Apple person with my Mac, iPad, and now iPhone.

In this day and age, with serious concerns about information security and data privacy, it’s important to trust the technology that we use. After going through this experience, I fully trust Apple to protect my data. Keep up the good work, Apple!

TechnologySecurity

Jerry Zhang

Programmer, YouTuber, and amateur musician. I like to write too!