In spring, 2017, a teenager walked up behind a woman leaving the Metro in Northeast Washington DC and put her in a chokehold: “Be quiet,” he said. And “delete your iCloud.” He grabbed her iPhone 6S and ran away.
With iCloud-locked phones, thieves can’t do a full factory reset on the device, making them little more than an expensive brick. That’s why this robber ordered their victim to remove iCloud.
The security feature has likely cut down on the number of iPhones that have been stolen, but enterprising criminals have found ways to remove iCloud in order to resell devices: they phish the phone’s original owners, or scam employees at Apple Stores. Thieves, coders, and hackers participate in an underground industry designed to remove a user’s iCloud account from a phone so that they can then be sold on the black market.
Motherboard Editor-in-Chief Jason Koebler and Senior Staff Writer Joseph Cox spent the last few months diving into the notably complicated world of “iCloud unlocks” and the ways in which it involves not only physical and cybercrime, but also the otherwise legitimate independent iPhone repair industry.