How to Erase Your iOS Device

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Security shouldn’t stop at your computer. Your mobile phones and devices are actually more vulnerable to become lost or stolen, and they can contain just as much personal and sensitive data. Before you sell, trash, or send them off for repair, you should wipe them clean of your personal information. In addition, you should enable security features to protect your device if it gets into someone else’s hands.

In this tutorial, we’ll see how to back up your iOS device – iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch – and wipe it clean to erase all your settings, applications, and data. Plus, we’ll show you how to enable data protection or encryption to safeguard all of your information. Additionally, you’ll learn how to enable tracking to help find and secure your device when misplaced or stolen.

Backing Up Your iOS Device Before Wiping or Restoring

Before wiping or restoring your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you probably want to back up your settings, applications, and personal data. If you are upgrading to a newer model, you can load your saved data from your old device to the new one. If you are wiping the device to potentially fix problems or are sending it in for repair, you’ll be able to restore the data afterwards. Keep in mind, you can even backup and restore most items among the three different mobile iOS devices.

When reading the Apple documentation, you’ll see three different methods used for saving data: backing up, syncing, and transferring purchases. Essentially, the backups contain the phone settings, the syncing saves your personal files (music, podcasts, ringtones, photos, videos), and transferring purchases saves your apps purchased from the iTunes Store. Keep in mind, syncing a device in iTunes creates a backup automatically on your PC, but doesn’t automatically transfer purchases.

Here’s how to save all the settings and data on your iOS device and then load them onto the same device or a new one:

  1. Ensure you have the latest version of iTuneson your PC and iOS on your mobile device.


  2. Connect the iOS device that you want to wipe to the PC and sync it with iTunes, which also creates a backup. Right-click the device in iTunes and select Transfer Purchases, which backs up the applications you’ve downloaded from the iTunes Store. Once you’ve done both, verify all these successfully backed up to iTunes.


  3. If you’re wanting to wipe the device and then restore your backed up data to that same device, go ahead and wipe your device now. Refer to the next section for wiping and then resume with step four to restore your data.


  4. Connect the iOS device that you want to transfer the data to. When iTunes asks if you want to restore from a backup or set it up as a new device, select the backup you just created. If not prompted, use iTunes to restore iOS on the device and try connecting again.


  5. Once completed and after the iOS device restarts, you should see the device in the iTunes window. Select it and verify the items you want to sync on the tabs. Then click Apply to sync.


  6. Verify that it worked properly. Check for saved SMS messages, email accounts, passwords, photos, notes, etc. Keep in mind; you’ll have to enter your email account and voicemail passwords again.


If you upgraded to a new iOS device, you can now wipe the old one (discussed next) since you’ve confirmed all the settings, applications, and data has been moved over.

Wiping Your iOS Device

The method and length of time to wipe and restore an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to factory defaults depends upon whether the model supports hardware encryption or not.

When a device supports hardware encryption, the user settings and information is erased by removing the encryption key. This just takes a couple minutes.

For iOS devices that don’t support hardware encryption, the user settings and information is removed by overwriting the data. This can take up to several hours, depending on the storage capacity.

The following table shows which method is supported for the varying iOS models:


Hardware Encryption


Original iPhone



iPhone 3G



iPhone 3GS



iPhone 4






iPod touch



iPod touch (2nd generation)



iPod touch (3rd generation)



iPod touch (4th generation)




When you’re ready to wipe your iOS device, first make sure it’s fully charged or plugged in. Then click Settings > General > Reset, and then select Erase All Content and Settings.

Next page: Protecting Your iOS Device if Lost or Stolen

Previous page: Backing Up and Wiping Your iOS Device

Protecting Your iOS Device if Lost or Stolen

Now that you are starting fresh, you should take a few extras precautions to protect your privacy and information in case your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch becomes lost or stolen.

To use both of the features we’re going to discuss (data protection and tracking), you must be using a model that supports Hardware Encryption (shown on the table earlier) with iOS 4.2 or better. If you’re using a device that shipped with iOS 3 (iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3rd generation, or iPad), you must also backup and restore the device, such as discussed earlier, after updating to iOS 4.2.

Another catch: if you want device tracking on your iPhone or iPod Touch and don’t already have a free MobileMe account, you must be using an iPhone 4 or fourth-generation iPod Touch to create the account.

First, you should enable data protection, which encrypts all the device’s data. Essentially no one can access or recover your settings or data without your passcode. However, there have been some known loopholes, so be sure to keep iOS updated.

Enabling data protection simply consists of setting a passcode on your iOS device that supports hardware encryption. However, even if you have already set a passcode, you should double-check data protection is on and review the settings:

  1. Tap Settings > General > Passcode.


  2. If not set, follow the prompts to create a passcode.


  3. After a passcode is set, scroll down to the bottom and verify it says “Data protection is enabled”.


  4. For maximum security, you should:


    • Set Require Passcode to Immediately.


    • Set Simple Passcode to OFF, so you can set and use a longer passcode with letters too.


    • Set Erase Data to ON, so it automatically erases all data after ten failed passcode attempts.


Next, you should sign up for a free MobileMe account and active the Find My iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch feature, discussed shortly. If your device becomes lost or stolen, you can see its location on a map (if it’s connected to the Internet) by logging into your MobileMe account at

You can also make your play a sound to help find it, even if the volume is turned down or muted. You can send a customized message to be displayed on the screen, telling the person that finds it to call your number for example. If you haven’t already set a passcode, you can set one remotely or wipe the device if you have a recent backup/sync with iTunes on your PC.

Here’s how to setup tracking for your iOS device:

  1. Tap Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars.


  2. Tap Add Account > MobileMe.


  3. Enter your Apple ID and password, or create one. If you already have a MobileMe account, enter your or email address and password.


  4. Verify your account by checking your email and visiting the verification link.


  5. Go back to the MobileMe screen on your iOS device and set Find My iPhone/iPad/iTouch to ON. When prompted, tap Allow.


Though your iOS device is now more secure, you should regularly sync it with iTunes to keep everything backed up in case it’s become lost, stolen, or broken.

Eric Geier founded NoWiresSecurity, which helps small businesses quickly and easily protect their Wi-Fi with enterprise-level security. He’s also a freelance tech writer and author of many networking and computing books, for brands like For Dummies and Cisco Press.

Keep up with security news; Follow eSecurityPlanet on Twitter: @eSecurityP.

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