I caught “iCloud Account Locked” Herpes

Don’t misjudge the title, which is a little click-bait-y — perhaps a lot click-bait-y — this is in fact a positive tale. A tale of despair, frustration, but ultimately an enjoyable experience with kept promises and an interaction with the Support team that many other companies would do well to replicate.

Aside from the frustration, lost hours, lost productivity and general despair of the situation I must say, Apple’s Support Team were fantastic. And I mean just that. Fantastic!

Start from the beginning, i’ve always been told…

Where did it all start?

Foolishly I decided this year to upgrade my old phone, an iPhone 6, for a shiny new iPhone 7. Order promptly placed, order less-promptly received. Although to be fair that’s more to do with where I have chosen to live rather than Apple’s fault.

That’s where the fun started.

After receiving the phone, it was switched it on and set it up as a new phone without adding an iCloud account, to get a feel for the device and to be honest, to play a bit before setting it up from a backup of the old phone.

The backup was unfortunately fraught with difficulties due to, as I found out later, a faulty Lightning/USB cable — an old one from my drawer. It then became impossible to backup the phone once there was a corrupt backup in iTunes. Failed every time with a fairly cryptic error message. I forget which, but it certainly didn’t say, “Hey, you’ve got a corrupt backup in iTunes. Delete it and try backing up again, that’ll fix it” which would have saved me something like an hour or two of searching, reading and eventually tripping up on a clue.

So, I deleted the corrupt backup, unravelled the new cable from the iPhone box and successfully backed up the 6.

After the eventual backup to the local computer, to preserve passwords — something that is now possible through iCloud I notice — I reset the phone and setup the phone as new from a backup, using the new cable of course!

Bam ! I got a notification that my iCloud account had been locked and that I needed to unlock it. Unlocking it wasn’t too drastic, but the procedure required a reset of my password. No problems, password changed. The setup from restore process continued and there it was, my shiny new iPhone 7 setup as I like it (9 years of configuration and tweaking since the original iPhone).

The fun continues

A few days after using the phone, I wake up one morning with the iPhone asking me to unlock my locked iCloud account again. Strange. OK, i’ll do it.

Same thing, password reset required. Rather a pain, as I’ve omitted to state. Because like many of you, I own not just one Apple device that logs into iCloud but many — iPad, AppleTV, iMac etc.

I’d forgotten to change the iCloud password somewhere on a device and it was that that had hosed my account I told myself. I went around all the devices and double-checked. Damn it! I’d forgotten the Back to my Mac password on the 3 Airport base stations. Changed them. All ok now, I’m sure.

I didn’t forget App-Specific Passwords this time either.

Petit parenthèse

This is where I go off on a rant about how ridiculous it is that Apple makes you enter the iCloud password in iCloud preferences and it sets up mail, iCloud Drive, but NOT iMessages/FaceTime — uses a different input of your login/password — but I won’t. Or that iTunes is yet another place to enter the password. Please Apple, consolidate this ASAP. One place to enter the password with check boxes for iTunes, iMessages, FaceTime etc. would not only be awesome, but better for security.

It didn’t stop there

It didn’t stop there, unfortunately.

Several days later, yet another iCloud account blocked notification. FSCK#&!!! … I did say it was like Herpes!

So, this time I decided to invoke Apple Support. Either someone is really trying to hack my account or there’s a problem elsewhere. Which, could still possibly be my fault.

I 💙 Apple Support

Firstly, if you haven’t used the Apple Support site, its excellent. Clear, concise. It gets you to where you need to be very quickly. I arranged a call time and dialled the number. The call was answered quickly and I was immediately talking to the first-line support guy with the allotted ticket number as the reference.

Being that this was 1st line, the person was knowledgeable and listened carefully to double-check I’d done all the right things before calling for help.

Check (Yay me !).

He then transferred me to the next level engineer who was clearly senior. Again, patient, listened attentively and most importantly was empathetic to my problem. How can that not be an excellent experience?

We exchanged details and off he went to investigate further. After a short delay and a quick exchange of thoughts/information we hung up and I received an email asking to fill out a survey, as is the norm these days. Then another email giving me some feedback about the issue.

It then happened again. Damn pox, you can’t get rid of it! This time at a really bad time. A time when I just didn’t have the availability to deal with it. So, I called Apple Support again, once i’d got some free time and had reset the account yet again. Not to rant or shout, but to see if there was any feedback and also to give them new information. You have to treat people how you wish to be treated yourself. It’s basic stuff.

I fell upon a different guy, again, probably senior, and to my surprise the attitude was the same. Attentive, empathetic, knowledgeable. I’m seeing a pattern here. Great work Apple!

We chatted for a while exchanging what had happened, going through in quite some detail the possibilities, with, at no point any pressure to close the call quickly from Apple’s side. He was there for me. We eliminated one by one all possibilities and he looked in depth at the devices that had logged into iCloud. All checked out.

So, we were back to two possibilities. A hack or a problem chez Apple. A hack was eliminated by a simple deduction from the engineer, 2-factor authentication, device validation and domain verification — apparently, having your own domain is slightly better than a public @comcast or whatever domain.

This left Apple as the probable culprit.

Now, in my experience large companies tend to do their utmost to pass the buck to someone, something else. This guy? No chance. He took it on-board and said he’d speak to the other engineer, update the ticket and go and speak to the engineers dealing with security. He then promised to call me back before or during the weekend with feedback. I’m used to this tactic. Gain a little time, works every time.

Holy shit! He called me back the day after. He even took note of my time zone so as not to call in the night!

So, what’s the state of play currently?

Apparently, a problem was seen in my account about how the Apple authentication system treats multiple devices logged into iCloud simultaneously. Something that triggers a lock down as though the account has been hacked or a bad password has been entered too many times.

Something has been changed/fixed and I should see how it goes over the next few days or so.

Regardless of the outcome, I wanted to say that if you have an issue, you shouldn’t, for a second, hesitate to contact Apple Support. You’ll get professional, empathetic support for your issue. Within reason, of course.

So, I can’t declare the problem irradiated just yet, but the inoculation procedure was as helpful and pleasant as I could possibly wish for.

Thank you, Apple Support. You should be proud of yourselves.