Multiple reports on Monday revealed that Apple silently killed a special anti-theft tool that can help users avoid buying stolen iPhones or other devices that might be locked with iCloud. Apple’s Activation Lock checker is a simple site that lets you enter a device’s IMEI or Serial Number (both of them unique identifiers) to see whether the Activation Lock protection has been disabled.
A stolen iPhone that has the Activation Lock protection enabled can’t be used by thieves or anyone who buys it. A legitimate iPhone seller would remove the iCloud Activation Lock before making the sale. For the buyer, this simple tool would make it easier to check whether the Activation Lock has been eliminated or not well ahead of making the purchase.
But it turns out there’s a real reason Apple removed it without saying anything on the matter.
It seems that hackers may have abused it to unlock stolen devices that were protected by Activation Locks. A video first shared by MacRumors, but posted on YouTube in July 2016, shows how a person could use the Activation Lock to discover a valid IMEI, obtain a verification, and then use that verification to trick Apple’s servers into unlocking a non-functional iPhone or iPad.
If true, this would certainly explain why Apple is taking action without making any announcements. This Activation Lock hack might also account for the series of reports that detailed a strange Activation Lock error. Soon after the iPhone 7 launched, some users discovered that their brand new devices were locked with unknown iCloud accounts, even though they were never used before.
That said, the actual process of unlocking a stolen iPhone is somewhat complicated and involves taking the phone apart, removing the logic board, and then removing the flash storage from the device. Yes, this is the kind of procedure that might permanently damage a stolen iPhone or iPad, which means your average smartphone thief might not be able to do it — check out the full video below to see it in action.