It happens: you lose your phone, freak out because there’s a ton of personal information in it. You go to Android Device Manager (aka ADM), lock your phone with a temporary password and ask ADM for a remote wipe.

Later, it turns out that the phone was just misplaced and out of battery. If you turn it on, it should be wiped right away.

The thing is: once the remote wipe has been requested, there is no way to prevent the command from being SENT (save time, don’t search further), but you prevent the command from being RECEIVED (and executed).

If you follow these simple steps, you may just save yourself a lot of troubles (more details below, I’d advise reading the article):

  1. Shut down all data communications by removing the SIM and shutting down your WIFI network
  2. Boot. Log into the phone
    1. Switch to plane mode.
    2. Go to Settings>Security>Device Administrators>Disable ADM
  3. Backup your data (optional)
  4. Reboot, re-enable ADM

1/ Shut down all communications (prevent the wipe command from arriving)

A remote wipe command will wipe a phone immediately if there’s network connectivity on the device (and enough bettery left for the wipe?). In our tests, it look less than 1 second for the wipe to initiate after the command was sent online.

I assume that your phone was out of battery at the time, and that is why it has not been wiped – yet. The wipe command comes from Google’s servers, so you must shut down ALL Internet activities on your phone.

  1. Do NOT charge your phone now. It may turn on and connect
  2. Remove the SIM card to prevent cellular Internet
  3. Go to a place where there is no known WiFi network already saved on your phone
    1. Shut down your router and other access points
    2. If you have ever used your neighbor’s WIFI and nearby networks, go to another place
      1. Take your laptop with you to copy data later
    3. “No Internet” is critical! If you fail to isolate your phone from the Internet, all could be lost.

2/ Boot, disable ADM admin rights and backup your data

Explanation: Android Device Manager has an app component on your phone, which is responsible for executing the wipe command. We will show you how to disable it before re-enabling internet communications.

Block ADM from doing anything

Without networking, a remote wipe request won’t execute on the phone

  1. Charge your phone
  2. Boot your phone and log in with the temporary ADM password or the regular password
    1. The ADM temporary is the password you used to lock the phone via ADM
      1. Note: this may be different from your usual password
    2. The ADM password does not replace/remove your usual password
  3. Switch to “Plane” mode, just to be extra paranoid. This prevents network communications too
    1. Never too paranoid
    2. In most phones, it is near the WIFI settings in the Settings Screen
  4. In Settings > Security Settings > Find “Device Administrators”
    1. These are the apps that have administrative access so they can wipe or do other critical operations
  5. You should see Android Device Manager. Turn it OFF.

3/ Backup your data (optional, but recommended)

To be on the safe side: BACKUP DATA YOU DON’T WANT TO LOSE.

Precaution: save your data before turning networking ON.

Now would be a good time to look at our How to Back an Android Phone tutorial, where we explain how to backup over USB by copying files. Basically:

  1. Plug your phone to your computer, mount it as a USB Drive
  2. Browse your phone as a USB drive to copy your data to your PC
    1. Photos: they are usually in the DCIM or Camera folder on your phone
      1. There are better ways to backup you Android photos, but they require the Internet
    2. SMS: Most Android SMS backups will require downloading an app, but there are some desktop-based ones like BackupTrans and MobileTrans that may work (not tested)
    3. Contacts: Without downloading an Android app, you can try PC software like SyncIOS (free, not tested). If your contacts are in Gmail, you do not need to back them up since they are already on Google’s Server. The same thing is true for Exchange contacts.
    4. Emails: If you use Gmail or other web-based email services, your emails are hosted on the servers. No backup is necessary.
  3. Write down which apps are installed. It could save time if you need to start from zero.

Hopefully, ADM was blocked for good, but if for some reason the wipe still happens as soon as you are online again, you will keep as much data as possible. Now you can turn the network (WiFi/Cellular) back ON, the phone should not be wiped.

4/ Reboot, re-enable ADM

Whether you choose to backup or not, now you can re-enable the network, and event reboot the phone. After that, you can go back in the security settings and re-enable ADM. Normally, the wipe command should no longer execute.

For that next time you “lose” your phone…

If you avoided a full wipe despite sending the request, bravo! There are things you can to ease you pain next time.

  • Backup everything you care about on the phone
    • Using cloud services will alleviate any hardware loss
  • Use fingerprint login along with a strong password
  • Encrypt the whole device
    • When thieves perform a full reset or even a “wipe” on the phone, some data may still be recoverable
    • Encryption garbles the data, making it incomprehensible even after recovery
    • In most phones, you can do this in Settings > Security > Encryption

With strong security in place, the urge of triggering a wipe will not be as strong (or urgent) next time you lose/misplace your phone. Typically, people forget their phones in a place that opens in the morning or afternoon, so giving yourself 24 hours is not uncommon. Having some peace of mind that your data will be impossible to breach in that timeframe keeps your stress low.

Other things to know

Login after a wipe

After a remote wipe, the phone may ask you to log in with the SAME account the phone was last used with. This may be a theft deterrent, but if you are selling a phone, do at least a factory reset before shipping it. If you are concerned about recoverable data, here’s how to really wipe an Android phone, because the factory reset doesn’t wipe everything.

Once requested, a wipe command cannot be retracted online. Only prevented from executing on the device

It has been well documented that it is impossible to retract a remote wipe request, you can read on the topic on the Google product forums. It has been discussed on StackExchange or the Verizon support forums. Maybe in the past, there was an ADM option to cancel (pre-2015?), but I have never seen it myself.

Is the ADM password nagging you? Remove it

If you used ADM to lock your phone, it has asked you to enter a password. The phone might ask you to enter that password over and over.

To remove the Android Lock Password, just change your lock screen to a different type (swipe, fingerprint, pattern), and that is it. If you have it at “none,” the chances are that the password request will continue.

Filed in Cellphones. Read more about Android.

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