August 17, 2019
We all use devices (smartphone, tablet, or computer) that contain information we don't want strangers or thieves to access. To protect our privacy, we lock our devices with a username/password combination. Since we're going to be unlocking our device 5, 10, 15, 20 times a day, we use our fingerprints, our faces, passcode or PIN, or a lock screen pattern to unlock our device instead of our username/password.
Which is great, but what if you've got bandages on your fingers, your face got stung by bees and you can't remember your PIN, passcode, pattern, or even your password? Now you're locked out.
The good news is, it IS possible to get back into your device when everything fails, and you get locked out. The bad news is, it's not easy. If it were easy, then strangers or thieves could bypass your security.
Unlocking iPhones and iPads
Unless you run a national law enforcement agency or have very deep pockets, you can't bypass the security on an iOS device. The only way mere mortals can get back into a locked-out iPhone or iPad is by a complete reset.
To reset a locked-out iPhone or iPad, find a Mac or PC that's running iTunes and connect the device with a USB cable. Search the internet and find the recovery key combination for your device (try volume up, volume down, long press power on newer iPhones).
When you get into Recovery Mode, iTunes will figure out what's up and show you a Restore option. Click that and iTunes will reset your locked-out device to factory-fresh. Now, restore your most recent iCloud or iTunes backup.
Unlocking Android devices
As with Apple's products, the only real option here is resetting the locked-out device, which will erase your apps and data. Got backup?
From another device, search the internet for how to get into Recovery Mode for your specific locked-out device (there isn't any standard method). Once in Recovery Mode, choose the wipe data/factory reset option. When complete, restore your phone from your last backup.
Google's Find My Device service is an easier way to wipe your locked-out device, if you set it up, probably when you first got your phone. From another device, head to myaccount.google.com/security, log in with your Google account, scroll down to Your devices and click on Find a lost or stolen phone. Choose your device from the list then click Consider erasing this device to wipe the device. When complete, restore your phone from your last backup.
Unlocking a Mac
On a locked-out Mac, you can reset a forgotten password using your AppleID, even on the locked-out computer.
When you enter the wrong password three times, you'll see – reset it using your Apple ID on the lock screen. Click the link, and you get the option to log in with your AppleID credentials rather than your user account credentials, and you can then reset the account password.
That's handy if you're not using your AppleID as your user account. If you are, then we're back to resetting your Mac. Be sure your data and settings are backed up (from Apple's Time Machine backup program, hopefully). Restart your locked-out Mac and hold down Cmd+R. Choose Reinstall macOS to wipe your system and make it factory fresh. Apple has details on the whole process, search, and you shall find. Once you've re-install macOS, restore your back up.
Unlocking a Windows computer
If you're locked out of your Windows computer and using a Microsoft account to login, go to another device and head to login.microsoftonline.com. Enter your login info and then click Forgotten my password and set up a new password. Go back to the locked-out computer and use your shiny new password.
If you're not using a Microsoft account, you can still get back in, but you should probably call somebody for help. Hey, I know a guy who can help....
If all else fails, you can reinstall Windows. Hopefully, you've got your data backed up somewhere.
Don't do this.
Instead of using the same password everywhere, try using multiple variations of the same password, changing a letter or two or maybe adding a number somewhere. This results in a lot of super secure passwords that will prevent you from ever logging in anywhere.