How To + Recommended

How to enable the “Kill Switch” on your iPhone or iPad, right now!

Posted on April 21st, 2014 by

Kill buttonThe big smartphone manufacturers—Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft—have all committed to introducing a smartphone "Kill Switch" for their devices by 2015.

But what is a "Kill Switch," why would you want one, and—perhaps most relevantly to readers of this blog—how can you turn on your very own iPhone/iPad Kill Switch today?

A Kill switch is a feature designed to deter the growing problem of mobile phone thieves.

Many smartphones already include the ability to let users remotely wipe their lost devices, ensuring that sensitive data doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But that doesn't stop a determined criminal from doing a "factory reset," and selling the device on as though it were newly purchased from the local store.

The idea is this: if a smartphone can be rendered useless after it has been lost or stolen, that should make it less attractive for criminals to steal in the first place.

Imagine if all smartphones were protected with a Kill Switch, and all thieves knew that a stolen phone wasn't going to be any use to them.

It's hard to picture why anyone would be at risk of being mugged for their phone anymore, and wouldn't that be great?

It would be good news for you, the consumer, and for law enforcement agencies, as Apple iPhones have become by far the most popular target for mobile phone thieves, leading to police to dub the crime "Apple picking."

The great news is that from iOS 7, Apple's "Find my iPhone" feature has incorporated a new technology called "Activation Lock," which is effectively Apple's version of the Kill Switch.

All you need to do is make sure you know about it, and turn on the feature on your devices. Here's how to enable the Kill Switch on your iPhone or iPad, right now:

Setting up Find my iPhone

First things first. You need to enable "Find my iPhone."

  • Go to Settings on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
  • Tap iCloud.
  • Sign in with your Apple ID, if necessary.
  • Turn on Find My iPhone.
Enable "Find my iPhone" in your iOS settings.

Enable "Find my iPhone" in your iOS settings.

Fantastic! You're making real progress, and you shouldn't have to do anything else until your phone is lost or stolen.

Fingers crossed it won't ever happen to you, but if you are unlucky enough to mislay your iPhone or iPad, whether you think it has been stolen or lost, you should immediately put it into Lost Mode through Find my iPhone.

Enabling Lost Mode

To put a device into Lost Mode, simply log in to from a Mac or PC, or use the Find My iPhone iOS app from another of your devices.

If you're lucky, you'll see a map of where it believes your lost device can be found. Of course, that may not be enough to retrieve your mislaid iPhone or iPad safely.

Once logged into iCloud, you can activate Lost Mode.

Once logged into iCloud, you can activate Lost Mode.

You will be given the option to display a phone number and message on the locked device's screen. You can also remotely wipe the lost iPhone/iPad if you wish.

Your custom message will continue to display even after the device is wiped.

You can display a message and contact details on the lost device. Hey, it might help...

You can display a message and contact details on the lost device. Hey, it might help...

Neat! That should stop a criminal selling on your phone to somebody else, passing it off as their own.

Once Lost Mode has been enabled, your device's screen will be locked and demand that whoever finds it enter your Apple ID and password before they can do anything with it.

Activation lock on iPhone

This iPhone cannot be used until the correct Apple ID and passcode is entered.

Bingo, you've turned on the Kill Switch. And it's not even 2015 yet. 🙂

Some important things to consider

Features like Apple's Activation Lock are only going to help if you have them enabled and use them sensibly.

So, make sure that your Apple ID password is not easy to guess, and that you are not using the same password anywhere else on the Internet.

Also, you should have a passcode protecting access to your phone. Most people use a simple four digit passcode, but you will get a higher level of security if you create a longer passcode which includes alphanumeric characters and choose a short time out. You can configure the passcode for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch using Settings > Passcode Lock.

A good passcode is important, because earlier this month an iOS 7 bug was found, which made it possible for someone who had access to an unlocked iPhone to disable Find My iPhone and bypass the Activation Lock without knowing your Apple ID password. Hopefully Apple will fix that flaw soon.

Furthermore, never forget to wipe all of the content and settings off your iPhone or iPad before you sell it or pass it onto someone else as a gift. You can do that by going to Settings > General > Reset. Apple has more advice regarding how to do this safely in its support knowledgebase article.

If you have already given away a device, and forgot to disconnect it from your Apple ID, you would be wise to follow Apple's advice here about how to remove it from Find my iPhone and disable Activation Lock.

Finally, for more great advice on what to do if your iPhone gets stolen, check out this article by Lysa Myers. It predates iOS 7 and Apple's introduction of the Activation Lock, but still contains some good recommendations about what to do both before and after your phone gets stolen.

About Graham Cluley

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats. Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley. View all posts by Graham Cluley →
  • Gama Xul

    And if the feds, or anyone skilled enough, decides they don’t like what you’re doing; they can own your device or use it to track you down.

    Some people are just too naive for technology.

    • dRanger

      And unless you are actively hiding, how long would it take for someone to track you down even if you don’t have a phone?

      Some people are just too paranoid for technology.

      • Gama Xul

        It’s not paranoia when the technology exists, they’ve stated they’ve used it against the public, the technology is ever-advancing, and groups are actively pursuing information domination. You can buy all the latest technological gadgetry you want, but I want nothing to do with them because I wish to maintain my consent and as much privacy as I expect. I do have things to hide.

    • Martin

      If you’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the problem?

      • Gama Xul

        This is an argument of consent, and privacy. I do have things to hide. We should all have something to hide. Like perhaps, our personal information, contact lists, payment information, where I’ve been, where I’m going, who I’ve been talking to and anything else. That is all something I HAVE to hide.

        • Martin

          Look, I see where you’re coming from but in the terms that you described (purely in terms of location-based tracking) it’s not something I’m particularly worried about. To whom have I consented to give updates on my location? Apple? There are three ways that the ‘feds’ can get hold of that information 1) by stealing it; 2) by asking for it; 3) by being sold it. If it’s 1 or 2 – chances are I’ve done something wrong in the first place and probably deserve to be tracked down. If it’s 3 – what do I care? It doesn’t concern me that people know I’ve been to work or to the coffee shop. People could find that out easily enough by following me around, which I’m not paranoid enough to think is actually happening.

          • Gama Xul

            I see your point, and you are correct. Most people have little concern about the feds obtaining information from their devices. And I can respect this attitude from people.

            I have a history of witnessing unconstitutional corruption from two specific federal agents operating within the DEA, and about a panel of folks working for the DOJ. I can no longer expect the government to behave morally. I will not trust them. I will support the individual states, but as far as agencies of the federal government having easier access to localized personal information, that creeps me out.

            I believe that if we have another World War, the US will play a role like that of NAZI Germany. Our foreign policy is brute force, and that is dually the actions of the federal government and military industrial complex. So I kind of see the feds as part of the problem, and I want them to know as little about me as I can manage.

      • Jay Zed

        That only happens with Google phones

        • Martin

          What does?

    • nige

      and yet you have a bank account…traceable, use credit cards…traceable, pay bills…..traceable, have memberships….traceable, use a computer…IP .traceable, but you won’t use something to protect a valuable piece of hardware that probably contains your whole life and information of others! How completely irresponsible and small minded!

      • Gama Xul

        A lot of what you have said is assumption. I do have things to hide, so I certainly don’t use “smart” phones.

        • Jay Zed

          You shouldnt use the internet either, just hide under a rock with no technology and electricity or any kind of technology what so ever

          • Gama Xul

            That would be optimal, yes. I spend the summers nearly in that manner at a cabin in Colorado. I recommend it. I use the internet through pseudonyms and a vpn, so it’s about as anonymous as I can get.

    • Jay Zed

      thats only a problem for phones running Android, in other words Google who rely on tracking and gathering your information. Not so much Apple i am afraid. And they could track you regardless as dRanger said

      • Gama Xul

        I would agree that all devices are “ownable” with enough effort.