This can be a very disconcerting sight on your iPhone’s screen

iPhone Is DisabledOne minute the world looks all tickety-boo, and then you pull your iPhone out of your pocket or bag and are confronted with a black and white screen that says “iPhone is disabled, please try again in 5 minutes” (or a different number of minutes).

What? Everything was fine the last time you looked. Have you been hacked? Got a virus?

So what do you do? Obviously, you click on the home button and every other button you can find to see if you can knock some sense into it. No joy. So you turn it completely off and back on again. Still no joy. Only now it says “try again in 10 minutes” or something similar.

The best procedure in this case is:

1) Follow Lance Corporal Jones’ advice – “Don’t panic”
2) Follow the Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy‘s advice – “Don’t Panic”
3) Wait the number of minutes it tells you to (yes, I know, it seems like twice as long)
4) Re-enter your password
5) Breathe a sigh of relief and carry on with your day

What happened?

The iPhone thinks you have been trying to enter your passcode and that you’ve got it wrong too many times. The first message will come up after five incorrect attempts. In this case, you will be required to wait one minute before being able to try again. Thereafter, the number of minutes you have to wait increases every time you get it wrong:

7 incorrect entries in a row – try again in 5 minutes
8 incorrect entries in a row – try again in 15 minutes
9 incorrect entries in a row – try again in 60 minutes

If you haven’t got it right after nine attempts you are in a spot of bother and you are probably going to have to restore a backup of your data via iCloud or via iTunes. If you haven’t got a backup then you will need to enter recover mode and the best you will be able to do is wipe the phone clean and start afresh.

H2G2 - Don't PanicHere’s where I would normally emphasise the importance of taking backups, but if you haven’t worked that out for yourself already then there probably isn’t anything I can say that will do the trick. The one thing that probably will do the trick is to experience first-hand the inconvenience of losing data. In the case of mobile phones, of course, this can be more than inconvenience as many people use their phones to take irreplaceable photos of their children. Nuff said.

In my own case, I’m not really sure how I got into the situation of the phone becoming disabled. Although I accept that it can get triggered accidentally when the phone’s in your pocket (or bag), it seems odd that it happened to me twice in three days and yet it had never happened before in years of iPhone ownership. Maybe it won’t happen again in the next ten years – but I updated my backup straight after the first occasion, just in case.

Lance Corporal Jones

“Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring”

If you do need to recover your data via iTunes or iCloud, or if you need to go into recovery mode, there are many websites out there that can help – including this blog.

OK, I can’t resist saying it – if you’ve never backed up your iPhone, please consider doing it. My own preference is to use iTunes to back up my iPhone to my own computer. That way, you do not fall into Apple’s trap of using up all your meagre data storage allowance and being suckered into taking out a subscription to get enough space to achieve the backup.

Some of your iPhone call history could end up on your partner’s device and you can’t stop it if you use iCloud

iPhone Passcode

A passcode isn’t needed to access an iPhone’s call history

Without telling its users – let alone offering a way to stop it happening – it appears that Apple have been storing your iPhone’s call logs in your iCloud account (if you have iCloud turned on). Potentially, this offers security services a way of accessing a phone’s call history without having to know or hack the passcode for the device and without having to “persuade” the phone’s carrier to reveal the information (source: The Intercept).

Information stored includes:

  • list of calls made and received (over the previous four months)
  • dates and times
  • duration
  • missed and bypassed calls
  • regular calls and FaceTime calls are both included

Apple have no way of accessing the data on a recent iPhone whose passcode they don’t know. This caused a bit of a rumpus last year when the US authorities wanted Apple to help them access the phone of a suspected bomber (for a detailed description of the circumstances of this case see, for instance this “Wired” article). No such arguments exists here as Apple does have access to iCloud logs and could be forced by a court order to reveal them.

As well as the fundamental principle of privacy (yes, I do think we’re fighting a losing battle on that front – a lost cause even), this can also have unforeseen consequences in the very real world – far away from the world of spies and terrorism.

Looking at Mobiles

Are you unknowingly revealing your call history?

The point of iCloud (in case you were wondering) is that it enables data to be shared between the different devices relating to a specific Apple ID. With the latest version of IOS (iPhone’s operating system), this extends to sharing phone call histories between the different devices of a single Apple ID. This happens by syncing the call history to the iCloud account and back down to other devices using the same Apple ID. So, all of your call history can now magically appear on the iPhone of your partner! If you have any aspect of your life that you would rather your partner not know about then it is no longer enough to think that they can’t get at that information because they don’t have your iPhone’s passcode.

iCloud - Setting Up

Don’t use iCloud if you want your call history to remain private

I’m not remotely interested, here, in the morality of doing things behind your partner’s back. It’s none of my business. However, I think it’s appalling that Apple can be so cavalier with its customers’ privacy that it neither informs them of this situation, nor offers any user-defined options to deal with it. There are, of course, two simple ways of dealing with it and they are not to use iCloud at all or, even more sensibly, don’t share an Apple ID with anyone else. Whether that conjures up words like babies and bathwater depends upon your own situation but, at present, these are the only ways of dealing with this sharing of call history.

Of course, you might well say that anyone who’s playing away is unlikely to be so close to their partner as to share an Apple ID. I wouldn’t know about that, but, irrespective of individual users’ behaviour, Apple are – at the most generous interpretation – a little careless with their customers’ privacy.

You can learn more about this situation at threatpost.com.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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