iPhone Passcodes About to Get 100 Times Tougher

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With the introduction of iOS 9, Apple wants more and more people to invest in its phones and tablets. More users means more security risks, though, which may be why the company is taking a few precautions with its new mobile operating system. Six-digit passcodes will replace the old four-digit ones both for unlocking devices and for providing two-factor authentication.

Apple explained iOS 9's new features on its website, and while the changes may seem modest, adding two digits to a lock screen increases the security, in theory, by a factor of about 100. While passcodes will still be optional in iOS 9, users who choose to employ them will have to string together six digits rather than just four. (They will still be able to create longer, alphanumberic passcodes as well.)

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Mathematically speaking, there are 10,000 possible 4-digit numbers, but 1 million 6-digit numbers. If you use the six digits of your birth date, of course, it won't be much harder to guess, but more obscure choices — like the first six digits of π, for example — should stymie potential intruders. Additionally, after 10 incorrect attempts, the Apple device in question will erase itself, so don't let your friends mess around with it too much.

A screenshot suggests that Apple's two-factor authentication will also ramp up to six digits. (We have contacted Apple to confirm this and will update this story when the company responds.) Apple has offered two-factor authentication on its devices for some time, but like its lock screens, its verification codes currently use only four digits. As far as the Tom's Guide staff is aware, there has been no pandemic of malefactors guessing two-factor authentication numbers, but six digits is, generally, safer than four.

Apple Watch owners may be pleased to note that the wearable device will also be getting a security boost. The company will add Activation Lock in watchOS 2, which will require your Apple ID and password along with the device passcode when you start the device up, preventing thieves from simply pairing it with a new phone. This will patch a very visible security hole that currently renders the Apple Watch essentially helpless if it's lost or stolen.

Improved security may not be iOS 9's most exciting feature, but it may be the one you're most glad for if your mobile device falls into the wrong hands. iOS 9 will enter public beta this summer, and it and watchOS 2 will see full releases later in 2015.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.