The next iPhone software release will include something all owners will welcome: an extra layer of security to protect you if your phone is stolen by a thief who has your passcode. It can’t come soon enough.
The release will be iOS 17.3—unless there’s another bug-fixing surprise beforehand—and it’s due in January. It is currently in public beta. The new feature is called Stolen Device Protection.
It’s bad enough that your iPhone could be stolen, but thieves who have gotten hold of your passcode, say by reading it over your shoulder at a bar, could do more. They could reset your password so only they can access it, change their Face ID face, and then proceed to drain their bank accounts.
I wrote about how to make your iPhone less vulnerable earlier in the year, but this new update will make things much better.
It’s a topic covered in depth by Joanna Stern and Nicole Nguyen at The Wall Street Journalincluding talking to a convicted iPhone thief about how he acted quickly to disable Find My iPhone so the owner couldn’t find or erase the phone.
Now, in a feature that came as a surprise when spotted in the first developer build and public beta for iOS 17.3, there’s a new layer of security to help prevent theft, even with access to your password.
Stolen device protection means that when enabled, Face ID or Touch ID authentication is required for actions such as viewing passwords, deleting content, and more. Unlike now, you or your thief won’t be able to go back to your password entry to make these changes.
As for that action that’s crucial to these thefts, changing your Apple ID account password, the new system cleverly adds a security delay on top. If the phone is in an unknown location, biometric authentication (Face ID or Touch ID) is followed by a one-hour wait, after which you must authenticate again with biometrics. The same delay is also required to add a new Face ID or turn off Find My iPhone.
The one-hour delay will not apply if the phone is in a familiar place, such as your home or work.
A thief who knows your password could buy things with Apple Pay using the password or look up passwords for other apps that don’t have separate protection. But it’s a big step in security.
Note that this feature is enabled, and if you don’t select it, you’re no better off than you are now.
For now, you could create a password that’s harder for someone to spot over your shoulder, such as one that combines letters and numbers, and never give out your password. Oh, and make sure there’s no sign of passwords in any of your apps. Remember that you can lock individual items in the Notes app, and obviously make sure you have a separate password for that.
Thieves will still try to steal your iPhone, but this new addition should mean it’s harder for them to steal your digital life too.