How to Easily Lock Any App on Your iPhone or iPad Behind Passcode or Biometric Authentication « iOS & iPhone :: Gadget Hacks | #ios | #apple | #iossecurity


Some iOS and iPadOS apps give you an option to lock them behind Face ID, Touch ID, or a passcode, but there aren’t many.

While there’s no setting on iOS and iPadOS to lock any app behind Face ID, Touch ID, or a passcode, some third-party developers incorporate the feature themselves. Still, they are few and far between, but a few workarounds can help fill the gap.

Many argue that locking your iPhone or iPad should be enough to keep people out of your apps, but if you share the device, accidentally leave it unlocked for anyone to glance at, or don’t use a passcode on it, other people could open and use your apps. Apps like Messenger, Outlook, Signal, and WhatsApp let you lock them behind biometric authentication, but you’ll need to use Shortcuts for other apps.

Apple has no action for using biometric authentication or your passcode in a shortcut or automation, but there are other ways to add more security to your apps. In a previous article, we showed an app-locking method in Shortcuts that used the AppDefense and AuthKit, but it’s likely too complicated or daunting for most users. Here are a few easier alternatives that don’t require extra shortcuts:

Method 1: Use a Timer Automation

Usually, when you set a timer in the Clock app, a sound goes off when the timer ends. If the timer sounds off when you’re using your iPhone or iPad, you need to tap the notification to silence it.

However, you can set the timer to stop playing audio on your iPhone or iPad instead. When the timer ends, your music, podcast, or other playing audio will stop, and it’ll take you to the lock screen. Even better, you’ll still be taken to the lock screen if there wasn’t any audio playing. When you land on the lock screen, you need to re-authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID, or your passcode to continue. And that’s how we can use it as an app lock in a Shortcuts automation.

To make your iPhone or iPad stop playing audio when a timer ends, open the Clock app, tap “When Timer Ends” for the “Timer,” choose “Stop Playing,” and hit “Set.”

Now, to use the timer as an app lock, jump to the “Automation” tab in the Shortcuts app and start a new personal automation. From the list of triggers, choose “App.”

To configure the trigger, tap “Choose” and select the app or multiple apps you want to lock from outside intruders. Then, ensure “Is Opened” is checked and tap “Next.”

In the editor, tap “Add Action” or the search bar, then find and select the “Set Timer” action. In the new action box, set the value to “1” and change “minutes” to “seconds.” Then, tap “Next.”

Using the shortest possible time will make the automation run immediately, taking the person who opens the app to the lock screen. If you make it a large amount of time, that’s how long they will have access to the app.

Finally, disable the “Ask Before Running” toggle and tap “Don’t Ask” when the confirmation message appears. To finish, tap “Done.”

The automation is now set. When you or someone else tries to open the app you indicated during the automation setup, your iPhone or iPad will automatically jump to the lock screen and lock itself after one second. To use the app, close the lock screen, re-authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID, or your passcode, and you’ll be back in the app.

The automation in action (left); The notification you get if a sound is set for the timer (right).

Caveats:

  • You’ll have to exit the lock screen and re-authenticate yourself every time you want to open a linked app.
  • When you need to time something, the timer is less useful since it won’t play a sound when it ends. To work around this, you can play audio during the timer and wait for it to stop, using that as the indicator.
  • Another workaround is temporarily changing “When Timer Ends” to an actual sound effect. However, you have to remember to change it back to “Stop Playing” when done so that the app lock automation still works. If you don’t, your device will display a timer notification and play a ringtone or alert tone whenever a linked app opens.
  • One second is still long enough for someone to see something in the app they shouldn’t, but it depends on the app.
  • Anyone familiar with Shortcuts can open that app and disable the automation.

Method 2: Use an ‘Ask for Input’ Shortcut

While there is no authentication action in Shortcuts, you can make your own version using the “Ask for Input” action and a new home screen icon for the app.

Basically, you create a shortcut that asks for a passcode or password to open the app you want to protect. Then you save a bookmark of that shortcut to your home screen with the same app icon and name as the app itself. Hide the actual app, and the fake app will open the real app when authenticated or do nothing if it’s the wrong passcode or password.

Open the Shortcuts app to start setting it up. Then, add a new shortcut from the “My Shortcuts” (iOS and iPadOS 15) or “Shortcuts” tab (iOS and iPadOS 16) and name it as the app you want to lock.

In the editor, tap “Add Action” or the search bar, then find and select the “Ask for Input” action. In the new action box, tap “Text” to see your available options.

  • Text: Set an alphanumeric password with or without special characters.
  • Number: Set a simple numeric passcode.
  • URL: Set a web address (real or fake) as the password.
  • Date: Set a specific day as the answer.
  • Time: Set a specific time as the answer.
  • Date and Time: Set a specific time and date as the answer.

Using text, number, or a URL requires input from the keyboard when opening the app. Utilizing the date or time options will open a picker where they can choose the date, time, or date and time. I’ll be using a number to set a simple passcode; To do the same, select “Number.”

No matter what you go with, tap “Prompt” to enter text to explain what you expect whoever opens the app to enter. I went with “Enter Passcode,” but it can be anything you want.

Now, add the “If” action. You can find and select it from the “Add Action” or search bar, or it may already be available as a suggestion you can tap at the bottom of the workflow. In the “If” action box, tap “Condition” and choose “is,” then hit “Number” and type the passcode you want to use.

Then, add the “Open App” action and place it between the “If” and “Otherwise” actions. Tap “App” in the action box, and choose the app you want to lock.

At this point, the shortcut already works. It will open the app you choose if the passcode is correct and do nothing if it’s not. However, if you want to make it more interesting, you can have the shortcut take a selfie every time an incorrect answer is given so that you can know who’s been trying to open the app.

Take a Selfie if the Passcode Is Incorrect (Optional)

Add the “Take Photo” action and place it right after the “Otherwise” action. By default, the action will show the camera interface whenever an incorrect answer is given, so whoever tried opening the app can take a picture, but that’s not what we want. Instead, tap the arrow icon to expand the submenu and disable the “Show Camera Preview” option so that the shortcut snaps a picture immediately.

Next, tap “Back” and change it to “Front” so the shortcut uses the front camera to take a selfie.

To be able to see the selfie, add the “Save to Photo Album” action and place it below the “Take Photo” action. By default, it will save the selfie to your “Recents” album, but you can tap that to change it to a different one.

That’s all you need to take and save the selfie. But you can also add a prompt letting the person know they entered the wrong passcode.

Add a ‘Wrong’ Prompt if the Passcode Is Incorrect (Optional)

Add the “Show Alert” action below the “Save to Photo Album” action. Then, replace “Do you want to continue?” with any prompt you want, such as “Incorrect passcode, try again.”

Add the Shortcut to Your Home Screen

To add the bookmark for the shortcut to your home screen in iOS and iPadOS 15, tap the options icon next to the shortcut’s name in the editor. In iOS and iPadOS 16, tap the arrow next to the name in the editor instead and hit the share icon. After, tap “Add to Home Screen.”

You’ll see a preview of the shortcut’s icon and name, but the icon needs to be that of the app it opens. Tap the image under Home Screen Name and Icon, then “Choose Photo” or “Choose File” to select the app icon.

If you don’t already have the icon for the app saved, you can install and use a shortcut like “Save Icons from the App Store” to get it. For this shortcut, you find the app in the App Store, hit the share button, select the shortcut from the share sheet, hit the share button, and then “Save Image.” You can also customize the shortcut to automatically save the app icon image when selecting it from the share sheet.

With the image set as the app icon for the app you want to lock, tap “Add,” and the shortcut will appear on your home screen. Don’t forget to remove the real app from your home screen. It will still be visible in the App Library, but someone trying to open an app quickly on someone else’s device may not have enough time to think about the App Library.

Adding the home screen shortcut (left); Entering the correct passcode (middle); Entering the wrong passcode (right).

Your shortcut is now complete. When someone opens the fake app on the home screen, it will ask for a passcode. If the passcode is correct, the app will open. Otherwise, it will take and save a selfie to an album in your Photos app, then prompt the user to try again.

Caveats:

  • Anyone who knows about the App Library can open the real app directly from there, bypassing your home screen app lock.
  • Anyone who knows anything about Shortcuts can open that app, view the editor for your shortcut, and find out the password, passcode, or answer.
  • You’ll have to build a shortcut for every app you want to lock, which can be very time-consuming if you have a lot of apps to protect.

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Cover photo, screenshots, and GIFs by Brenda Ramirez/Gadget Hacks



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