How to recover deleted data from an iPhone

"Is it possible to recover deleted pictures from an iPhone?"

"Can you retrieve a text message deleted a few months ago?"

"Can you bypass the password protection on my iPhone?"

"My phone has fallen in the bath, can you recover the data from it?"

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Our customer service team answers those questions daily. In this post, we wanted to summarize the most frequently asked questions and provide some explanations.

The goal of this post is rather informative than technical. We will try to avoid complicated technical jargon and concentrate on general explanations on what can be done when you lose your valuable data stored on an iPhone. According to Statcounter.com, the most popular mobile device in Canada, you guessed it – the iPhone. Over 50% of users chose the iPhone as their primary device. The second place goes to Samsung, with about 28% of the devices.

Being as popular as it is, we are often tasked with recovering data from Apple devices and have accumulated a great amount of knowledge and experience over the years. In the following paragraphs, we will provide some examples of the most common issues we are asked to deal with, and the possible remedies we apply.

Water damaged iPhone Until recently, that was one of the most common Issues we helped our clients with, not so much anymore. Starting from iPhone 7, Apple implemented the IP67 rating, which means that an iPhone can withstand am maximum depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes. The latest generation, iPhone 11, has an even higher rating of IP68, which allows the phone to withstand depths between 2 to 4 meters for 30 minutes.

Still, water damage can occur, and when that happens, a remedy must be applied as soon as possible – without properly addressing it, corrosion will start to build up. Our team has developed a proven remedy for coping with liquid damaged devices, which include the following steps:

Lost or forgotten unlock pin code or password Usually happens to people who had an old phone lying around, and they are looking into extracting some data out of it. When that happens, we usually see one of the following: either the user tried to input his password several times and stopped trying, or the user kept trying to input the wrong password and disabled the iPhone.

With both of those scenarios, the only way to bypass the password lock and to be able to use the phone is to factory reset it. For that to happen, the phone has to be in recovery mode, and an iTunes connection is often required. The obvious downside here – while you regain the functionality of your phone, you will lose all the current data stored on it. There are indeed services out there that provide iPhone unlock services, with companies like Cellebrite or GreyKey. Unfortunately, those services are only offered to law enforcement personnel with legal authority to unlock mobile devices.

Deleted Pictures/text messages or any other data

Apple has designed its devices with the intent to keep customers safe. There are several levels of encryption taking place inside an iPhone, and even a special hardware coprocessor called "Secure Enclave" that handles encryption processes. That makes recovering deleted files from an iPhone device an impossible mission. I am not talking about the tips and tricks we all know – such as looking into the "recently deleted" folder when deleting a picture (it will stay there for 30 days), or looking into the "trash" folder when an email is deleted.

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I am referring to images deleted a while ago, text messages that are gone for months, or iPhone devices that went through a factory reset. For all those scenarios, the deleted data, although still potentially located somewhere within the internal NAND memory chip, is not recoverable for one reason – it's encrypted. Once a file is deleted from an iPhone, the encryption key for the file is wiped. It means that even if the file is potentially extracted – there is no way to view it. The only caveat here is 3rd party data, specifically chat messages, and SMS text. Some of those items are potentially recoverable, due to the nature of the MySql databases they are stored in.

We always advise our clients to check whether they have any backup available to them. Apple offers its clients to back up their data into an iCloud, and even provides 5GB of free backup space. Another good option is to check for an iTunes backup on your desktop or laptop. If you ever connected your iPhone to your PC or Mac, there is a chance to find an iTunes backup there, as iTunes automatically backs up iOS devices connected to the computer it's installed on.

To preview the contents of a backup, you could restore it to an old iPhone, or use any of the freely available online tools to do so. Many of our clients were able to retrieve their data that way.

To summarize, Apple offers it's clients a great deal of security, but it comes with a price. Recovering data from iPhones is often challenging and not always rewarding. If you use an iPhone, the best advice one can give you is – backup. iCloud or iTunes, either one will work. And if you find yourself looking for deleted or lost data and have no backups available – we will always do our best and beyond to help you with that.

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