Beef up your iPad's security

26th Feb 2013 | 05:45

Beef up your iPad's security

You may not realise it, but it's time you increased the security of your iPad

Despite Apple's best efforts with the walled garden approach to prevent malicious software from installing, there's still a massive vulnerability that can cost you valuable data. It's you.

OK, we'll, not you specifically, but iPad users in general — of which I assume you're one, or why are you reading this? iPad users create security problems for themselves by not implementing the simple security features that Apple has built into iOS.

Your iPad is pretty safe when it's in your hands, but if someone gets at it when you turn your back — or if, heaven forbid, they steal it — all bets are off.

Imagine for a moment what someone stealing your iPad might get at, other than swiping your shiny toy. Confidential emails? Passwords? You log out of Facebook every time you quit the app, right? No? Oh, that could be embarrassing.

However, there are some very easy things you can do to protect your data and yourself — and maybe even your iPad — built in. Incidentally, everything discussed here also works with iPhones, although you're more likely to keep your iPhone on your person rather than in a bag, so it's a bit safer.

Use a better passcode

For whatever reason, the iPad doesn't make you use a passcode to unlock your iPad by default. The slight inconvenience seems tiny compared to the potential consequences of a compromised tablet, so fix that straight away.

Open the Settings app and tap on 'General' in the left-hand column. Find 'Passcode Lock' and tap on that.

The resulting pane has a number of options. First, tap on 'Turn Passcode On'. After all, that's what we came to do.

You'll then be presented with a keypad into which you can enter any four-digit code that comes to mind. A good four-digit code is easy for you to remember, but difficult for others to guess, so don't use your birthday or anything like that.

When you've tapped it in, you'll be asked to enter it again and then you're done. Sort of.

A four-digit passcode is all well and good, but an actual password is so much better. It's easier to remember and harder to guess, particularly if you use combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, and throw in the odd number instead of a v0W3l. You see what I did there?

Back in that 'Passcode Lock' pane in the Settings app, you'll see a slider that says 'Simple Passcode' is 'On'. That's the default.

Tap the slider to turn the 'Simple Passcode' to 'Off'. You'll be presented with that keypad again, on which you should enter the four-digit code you created before.

Once you've entered it, you'll be presented with a full keyboard on which to enter your new alphanumeric password. Enter it again and you're done.

Turn your passcode on

If you're not confident about your ability to create a strong, memorable password, there are numerous free or cheap utilities on the App Store to help.

I like Wolfram Password Generator, from the same folks who develop Wolfram Alpha. It costs 99c and can generate all kinds of passwords either randomly or according to rules you set, and it can test the strength of passwords you make up yourself.

Incidentally, right above the 'Simple Passcode' slider, there's the option to set an interval before a passcode is required.

It's basically like asking how long after the horse has bolted you'd like to shut the gate. Unless you can think of a good reason to set it to anything other than 'Immediately' (I can't), just leave it.

It's also a good idea to disable access for Siri and Photo Frame when the iPad's locked, which you can also do from the same Settings app.

There's quite likely no real security risk in allowing them, but anything that someone can do with your iPad without having to know your passcode is potentially a weakness.

Track its location

If someone does pinch your iPad, there's a pretty straightforward way to find out where it is.

It's part of Apple's iCloud service and it's called, cryptically enough, Find My iPhone, although it's not labelled that on an iPad. Nice of Apple to keep things simple.

Presuming you have an iCloud account (the setup of which is outside the scope of this particular article), simply open up the Settings app again, tap on 'iCloud' in the left-hand column and look for the slider to turn 'Find My iPad' to the 'On' position.

This will register the device with Apple, so it can use the location information provided by your iPad to track its position.

You need to have 'Location Services' activated on your iPad for it to work, so if you've turned that off (either to preserve battery power or because you're paranoid about Apple following you around), you'll be prompted to turn it back on.

If you can't find your iPad, either because of mischief or happenstance, you can use any web browser (or an app on an iPhone or another iPad) to find it.

Simply log in to iCloud.com, click on 'Find My iPhone' and then when the map appears, click on 'Devices' in the upper-left corner.

If you have multiple devices registered, select the one you're trying to find and its location will be marked by a green dot on the map.

Find My Phone map showing location of your ipad

You can then select 'Play Sound' (which will cause your iPad to beep, even if it's muted), 'Lost Mode' (which will lock the device and enable you to set a four-digit Passcode to unlock it, even if you haven't previously) or 'Erase iPad'. We'll get to that last one in a second.

If you're using the Find My iPhone or Find My iPad app on an iOS device to track your missing iPad, you also have the option to display a message on its screen. Something along the lines of 'If found please return to...' could be helpful, or 'If you stole my iPad I hope you get fleas' — whatever you feel is appropriate.

And if the device you're looking for is offline because the thief has cunningly switched it off, you can request an email notification if and when it appears online.

The nuclear option: wipe it

If all else fails, you can still stop people getting the valuable data and passwords stored on your device by wiping the thing clean remotely.

You can do this manually, using Find My iPhone, or you can tell your iPad to do it automatically in the event that the wrong passcode is entered 10 times.

Go into the Settings app again, tap on 'General > Passcode Lock' and at the bottom of that pane, set the slider for 'Erase Data' to 'On'.

Of course, once your device is wiped, it's wiped. Find My iPhone will no longer be able to track its location and your data can't be recovered. I presume you had a backup.

It may seem an extreme thing to do, but if you consider the worth of what you've stored on that eminently theftworthy device, it makes sense.

Erase data security feature

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