Apple introduced a new form of recovery key in September 2020 at
the release of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 to offer an option that lets
you recover access to an Apple ID account with two-factor
authentication when the password stops working (or you forget it)
or your account is locked. Apple's documentation didn't initially
reflect all the changes required to explain how to use this
(This recovery key is not related to the FileVault
Recovery Key. It's an updated version of a feature once used with
two-step verification, which was replaced with two-factor
I contacted the company, waited, and never got enough
information to recommend the feature—it was unclear how it worked.
Our last advice to readers was to avoid enabling it. But somewhere in the
previous several months, Apple quietly updated a few support pages
and made it far clearer how Apple's human-oriented account recovery
differs from using a recovery key:
Apple's general account recovery works like this:
- It takes some period of time between initiating and when Apple
may allow you to reset your account password and regain access.
That's to avoid identity theft.
- You may receive a verification code that you provide to Apple,
which may reduce the duration of the wait.
- You may be asked to enter credit-card information associated
with the account, which Apple validates through authorization
(essentially a pre-charge, not an actual charge), which may also
reduce the wait.
- After the period of time passes, Apple sends you an email or
uses an automated voice call to provides details to regain
However, this process can fail. Someone at Apple reviews at
least some of these stages and may decide you haven't proved you
are who you say you are at all. In that case, your account is
locked forever, along with losing any purchases, subscriptions, or
other information only available when you have access to the
account. That could include photos and images if you only have
full-resolution versions synced at iCloud.com.
If you enable the Recovery Key feature, however, the balance
- No one who lacks the recovery key can attempt to reset your
account's password and gain access. Such a person would need access
to your account password and an unlocked trusted device—and
potentially the device's password.
- You can unlock your Apple ID account if Apple has locked it for
some security reason just by possessing the recovery key.
Previously, you had to go through a process with Apple, which might
have resulted in them keeping the account locked permanently.
makes sure you really want to use a recovery key.
However, if you lose your recovery key, there is no backup
option: Apple can no longer help you regain account
If those advantages seem worthwhile, here's how to proceed. In
iOS 14/iPadOS 14 or later, go to Settings > Account
Name > Password & Security and tap Recovery
Key. In macOS Big Sur or later, open System
Preferences > Apple ID and click Password
& Security. Next:
- Turn on the recovery key. In iOS/iPadOS, tap the Recovery
Key switch. In macOS, click Turn On next to the
Recovery Key label.
- When prompted, confirm that you want to create a recovery key.
You'll have to enter the password of the device you're using or the
macOS account you're logged in to.
- The 28-character recovery key is displayed, divided by hyphens
into seven groups of four, but it can't be selected and copied.
Instead, you have to write it down or type it into a
password-management app. While it's not terribly secure, I suggest
you make a screen capture to ease entering the key and then
immediately delete it. (With Live Text in iOS 15/iPadOS 15 and
macOS 12, you can then just copy the key out of the screen
- When prompted, enter that long recovery key to validate you
have it recorded correctly. If you entered it elsewhere to keep a
permanent record, you can copy it from that location and paste it
into the dialog.
- Click Continue, and the account changes are made.
The recovery key is now active, and Apple sends email to the
address connected to your Apple ID account to confirm that.
(An important side note: Make sure that if you lose access to
your devices, that you can still pull up the recovery key from
somewhere. If unlocking all your devices that you can still
retrieve the key.)
When and if you need to recover account access or unlock your
Apple ID, Apple doesn't provide a list of steps of what happens.
Instead, the company's documentation implies that at the end of
attempting to recover or unlock, it will provide additional
recovery key is 28 characters long with dashes dividing groups. (I
reset mine after making this screen capture.)
What you need at that point, Apple notes, is the recovery key
and a trusted phone number as well as access to any iPhone or iPad
running iOS 11 or later or any Mac running macOS 10.13 High Sierra
or later. I haven't seen this process in access, but apparently,
you will need to receive a text message or automated call and enter
the recovery key in the appropriately provided location. At that
point, you can reset your password and regain access.
The recovery key can only be used once for this purpose, at
which time you can regenerate it in the locations described above
in iOS/iPadOS and macOS.
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