Getting into iPhone, iPad & Mac of deceased
August 11, 2015 7:45 AM   Subscribe

A friend's child passed away this week. They left behind an iPhone, iPad and MacBook, but no passwords. Looking for recommendations on best course of action to access the devices.

Really looking for general recommendations about how to proceed. I have some specific ideas I would try if it were me & I had the hardware (they're thousands of miles from me). But I'm a web geek, not a security geek, so my ideas are probably quite non-optimal.

I'm aware of hardware solutions to crack iPhones (presumably those would work for iPads), and I plan to make enquiries to see if there are any reputable folks in their area who can do that for them. This is a really rough time for them and they're not that technically sophisticated, and anyway I don't want to put them in the place of having to acquire sketchy hardware from sources they might regard as dubious. And anyway, that still leaves the laptop.

Finally, as I said, this is a rough time and I'd like to steer them on a path that's not going to take a lot of extra psychic energy for them to navigate.

(Geography: they are in the US; more than that I will provide privately.)

posted by lodurr to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, child was an adult. Do not know if they were on their parents' mobile plan.
posted by lodurr at 7:46 AM on August 11, 2015

A friend of mine was in a similar situation recently, and they took the password protected macbook to the genius bar at an apple store. They explained the situation and the folks were very helpful. I don't think any documentation or proof was required, as far as I know. Not sure if your friend has an apple store nearby, but if so that would be my recommendation.

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by bobafet at 7:50 AM on August 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Are they after the data, or the hardware?
posted by pharm at 7:51 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I doubt they care about the hardware.
posted by lodurr at 8:06 AM on August 11, 2015

If the macbook had a password but the data was not encrypted (via filevault or a third party solution) then it is almost trivial to pull the data by booting the macbook up in target disk mode (restart holding down the t key), connecting it to another mac, and browsing to the user folder. If they used filevault, then it is much, much harder to get to the data without the admin password.
posted by rockindata at 8:16 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding bobafet. I've heard stories in the past about Genius Bar employees unlocking devices in just this situation.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:31 AM on August 11, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, all, & keep the suggestions coming; much of this is stuff I ought to have remembered from 9+ years working on OS X, but, you know, finite stack space...

Also, I get that there are some potential ethical issues w.r.t. the wishes of the deceased. I have confidence that they'll make the decision that's right for their family; I'm just trying to help them find the tools if they decide to do this.
posted by lodurr at 9:37 AM on August 11, 2015

Someone at the store should be able to help, but they may request a copy of the death certificate before they'll act. That's what happened when I asked to have my mother's name removed from a joint bank account at any rate.
posted by peppermind at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2015

For the MacBook: boot off the Recovery HD (press ALT when turning on the Mac, then select Recovery), then when you get to the main screen saying "OS X Utilities", click Tools on the menu bar (or Utilities), then Terminal, then type: resetpassword - you should see a "Reset Password" dialog. Pick the main user's name, then type a new password, then quit, restart, and you should have access.

As for the iPad and iPhone, if they're protected by iCloud Activation lock, not much that can be done, I'm afraid. Even Genuises cannot help with that, IIRC, because it's remotely locked via iCloud. More information here.
posted by dubious_dude at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if the Mac doesn't have Mac OS X 10.7.2 or newer, or for some reason, the Recovery HD is turned off, boot off the original installer DVD that came with the laptop. Alternatively, press Command and R simultaneously when turning on the laptop, and it should connect then download the Recovery partition contents, then go from there. Hope that makes sense! Memail me if you need any follow up help.
posted by dubious_dude at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why do the parents want/need access to the devices?

If it's not a matter of life or death, let it go. The devices belonged to an adult. Respect his privacy.

(My will and living will both state who is to take charge of my electronic stuff. It's not my parents)
posted by james33 at 4:05 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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