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How to remotely wipe your devices: A complete guide

If you want to keep your data safe, you need to learn what a remote wipe is and how to perform one. Knowing about this one simple procedure might mean the difference between carrying on business as usual and having your important data compromised. Remote wiping is generally used on mobile devices like phones, tablets, and laptops to keep their contents protected after they’ve been lost or stolen. In this article, we’ll take a look at what a remote wipe is, why you might need to perform one, and how it can be executed across numerous device platforms.

How to remotely wipe your devices: A complete guide

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is a remote wipe?

Remote wipe definition

A remote wipe is the targeted deletion or destruction of data on a mobile device. If that device gets lost or stolen, or if you don’t want the person in possession of it to have access to the data on it anymore, remotely wiping data can be your best line of defense.

A remote wipe can be initiated by sending a command to a specialized app or mobile device management software (MDM) that you’ve previously installed. Sending this command triggers the destruction of files on the device in question. With most remote wiping software, you can control what gets deleted or destroyed, including:

  • Enterprise data only, leaving personal data behind.
  • All data files on a device.
  • Everything on the device, including the operating system, rendering it useless.

When should you perform a remote wipe?

Here are some of the most common situation when it might be beneficial to perform a remote wipe:

  • Lost/stolen devices. Imagine you’re in a hurry, so you absentmindedly leave your phone on the subway. As soon as you realize that your beloved device is gone, along with all of your personal data, panic starts to creep in. However, performing a remote wipe can keep your sensitive data out of the hands of cybercriminals.
  • Protecting enterprise data. If your company has a bring-your-own-device policy or if an employee suddenly quits, taking with them a company device, you can use remote wiping to prevent a data breach. You can also erase a device before passing it on to a new employee.
  • Changing or upgrading devices. To ensure the safety of your information, you can use this procedure when changing or upgrading devices. You can wipe your computer hard drive or wipe your phone before selling it to be sure no one has access to your files.

How does a remote wipe work?

Remote wiping works by giving a network administrator or device owner the capability to send a command that remotely deletes data from a computing device. However, when you want to perform a remote wipe, two preconditions have to be met. First, you must have already installed an app for data wiping or an MDM program on the device you want to wipe. Second, the device must be connected to the internet so that it can receive the wipe command that you’ll send. If both of these conditions are in place, you can follow this simple procedure:

  1. Log in to the MDM software or data-wiping app.
  2. Select the device you wish to wipe from the list.
  3. Indicate the specific files to wipe or the entire device.
  4. Execute the wipe.
  5. Check for notification that the wipe was successful.

If the device is not currently connected to the internet (for example, it’s turned off or in airplane mode), you can still follow this procedure to send the wipe command. The wipe will start as soon as the command is received the next time the device regains internet connectivity.

Remote wipes typically take only a few minutes. If you’re deleting absolutely everything on a device, including its programs and operating system, it could take a bit longer. However, unless the process is interrupted, remotely wiping a device shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes.

What are the limitations of remote wiping?

When you know the importance of data privacy, you’ll recognize just how useful a remote wipe can be. Here are the conditions that need to be met for the remote wipe to work:

  • Devices must be turned on and connected to the internet. If a wipe command is sent, it won’t be executed until the device is next online.
  • Remote wipes must be manually initiated. A lost phone or stolen laptop can’t be wiped until the owner realizes or reports it to administrators, who can order a wipe. During this lag time, malicious actors may be able to access some data.
  • Rebooting can interrupt a wipe. If someone powers off or reboots a device during the wiping process, the administrator may have to send the wipe command again.
  • Data must be backed up. If you order a wipe on a device without performing a data backup elsewhere, you can lose access to your files permanently.
  • Files may be recoverable. Depending on the method of wiping used, experts may be able to recover deleted files, especially if they haven’t been overwritten.

How to remote wipe your devices

Performing a remote wipe is slightly different on mobile devices using different operating systems. However, the general procedure of logging in to wiping software, selecting a device, and initiating a wipe is consistent across platforms. Note that to remotely wipe your iPhone or iPad, you will have had to turn on “Find My iPhone” on the device before it was lost.

Settings might differ depending on the wiper and/or MDM software.

How to remote wipe your iPhone

  1. Log in to your iCloud account through a web browser and go to “Find Devices” or open “Find iPhone” on another iOS device.
  2. Locate your iPhone from the “All devices” list.
  3. Select “Erase iPhone” to remotely wipe your iPhone.

How to remote wipe your Android device

  1. Connect to your wipe software on another device and log in as necessary.
  2. Find your Android device from the devices list and select it.
  3. Select “Wipe” or “Delete” to send the remote wipe command.

How to remote wipe your laptop

  1. Open your remote wipe or MDM software on another device.
  2. Find your laptop from the devices list and select it.
  3. Select “Wipe” or “Delete” to delete your laptop’s data.

How to remote wipe your iPad

  1. Log in to iCloud through a web browser or open “Find iPhone” on another iOS device.
  2. Locate your iPad from the “All devices” list.
  3. Select “Erase iPad” to remotely wipe your iPhone.

Pros and cons of remote wipe

Pros of remote wipingCons of remote wiping
Protects sensitive data when a device is lost or stolen.Must be executed manually after a device is reported lost or stolen.
Can be set to wipe specific files or an entire device.May cause data loss if files are not backed up.
Allows administrators to protect company data on all devices.Deleted files may be recoverable.
Forms part of a comprehensive data protection policy.Requires a corporation to create and implement a new policy.
Helps ensure compliance with data protection statutes.Requires investment of time and funds for learning and installing new software.

Who provides remote wipe services?

Many companies provide data protection as a service and offer wipe apps or MDM software to help delete data from lost or stolen devices.

  • AirDroid Business – MDM tool for iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows
  • Android Device Manager – MDM for Android devices with data wiping feature and 30-day recovery
  • Apple Find My – Built-in locator and wipe program on iOS products
  • Apple Business Manager – a web-based platform with a remote wipe feature
  • Google Workspace – enterprise software that can wipe devices
  • Knox Manage – MDM tool built into Samsung devices
  • Prey – third-party app for tracking and wiping remote devices


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