Recently, a friend had a problem: she set a new screen lock password on her Android phone and… forgot it! :)
HOW TO UNLOCK/BYPASS ANDROID PHONE SCREEN PASSWORD AND REMOVE SECURITY PATTERN
Yes, as strange as it sounds, it really happened! How can someone possibly setup a new password (PIN) and forget about it in a matter of several hours? Well, it turns out that all she wanted was to set something both easy to remember and hard to crack. So, she picked up a 6-digit PIN screen lock sequence, but obviously didn’t memorize it well enough later to confidently access her phone.
METHOD 1: USE GOOGLE GMAIL ACCOUNT RECOVERY (ANDROID 4.4 AND LOWER ONLY)
The easiest way to quickly unlock your phone and access all your apps, images and data was to intentionally try several wrong PINs / patterns / passwords and get to the brute-force prevention screen stating that you must wait 30 seconds before another attempt:
This method was available on Android versions 4.4 and lower, however, in Android 5.0 Lollipop and above this option was removed to increase account security. In a highly unlikely event that your GMail / PlayStore account gets compromised, this will stop potential abusers to gain access to your phone by bypassing the lock PIN or pattern.
If you have a newer Android version, not rooted, not enabled USB debugging and following options listed below, the only way to unlock your phone is to:
- Try to remember your PIN / password / pattern somehow. First, set the length of the passphrase itself (4-digits, 6-digits and so on). Note the difference between PIN and PASSWORD is that the PIN is digits/numbers only, and password must contain mixed letters and numbers. Otherwise, they are the same thing, except passwords are more robust (harder to guess / brute-force). Eliminate digits that you did not use, and also remove non-logical combinations / positions of the pattern. If you used sequences of 2 neighboring numbers – e.g. 12, 56, 78 etc. it will greatly reduce your password “hacking” efforts. Of course, if you did not put the password by yourself (your friend, colleague, kids…), it will be impossible to take these kind of shortcuts (btw, this is how my friend finally unlocked her phone – trying several logical sequences remembered the PIN phrase in the end)
- In some phones, you will be asked to enter a previously set security PIN sequence or a security question-and-answer pair. However, this is not available on all/majority of the phone brands and Android versions.
- Send your phone to the store/manufacturer service center where/from/which you purchased the phone and pray for the miracle.
Methods following below will only work if some preconditions are set before the locked screen incident and will be useless to most ordinary users.
METHOD 2: USE GOOGLE FIND MY PHONE (ex ANDROID DEVICE MANAGER) (ONLINE)
This section should really be called: “FIRST THING YOU MUST DO AFTER PURCHASING AN ANDROID PHONE” (enable Google Find My Device (former Android Device Manager) on your brand new device!)
This method will NOT work if you haven’t previously enabled this feature in your phone device settings, so don’t have your hopes too high.
For those who did, the solution is very easy and straightforward: Login to Google Find My Phone (formerly Android Device Manager) online with your PlayStore/GMail account and remotely “unlock” your device (remove old lock screen PIN/pattern/password and setup a new one).
Additionally, you can remotely pinpoint the approximate location of your device with Google Android Device Manager (only if Location service is enabled in device’s settings) if you ever lost it or get stolen, even wipe it clean before your personal data gets compromised (may affect only internal phone storage, though – not external SD card).
While we are at it, you might wish to know how to remove your old device(s) from google android remote manager at some point later:
How to remove your phone from Google Find My Device (Android Device Manager)?
STEP 1: Login into myaccount.google.com with your GMail account
STEP 2: Go to Device activity & notifications section
STEP 3: Go to REVIEW DEVICES section
STEP 4: Touch or select device you wish to edit and click on REMOVE button
METHOD 3: UNLOCK WITH ADB (Android Debug Bridge)
This method is also specific, because it requires several pre-set conditions:
- USB debugging must be previously enabled
- Phone must allow your computer to communicate via ADB
- You must already have Android SDK installed (for Linux you must install SDK with Platform Tools package selected) and ADB drivers (Windows) or ADB drivers (for Linux). Alternatively, if you are on Windows OS, you can try standalone ADB tool for Windows.
And, again, what are the odds that an ordinary android user did anything of the above before getting into trouble? Virtually zero.
Nevertheless, here is how you can pull this up: once you connect phone via USB, run the following command from your ADB terminal:
adb shell rm /data/system/gesture.key
The above command will simply delete stored gesture.key file in your device, effectively removing the screen lock.
ANY OTHER METHODS AVAILABLE?
Custom Brand services
Yes, there are several brand/manufacturer specific methods, such as Samsung’s Phone Finder and Sony myXperia tools, which are similar to Google’s Find My Device, but it will only work for you if you already have Samsung/Sony device and previously activated account.
In case you did not set one for your phone(s), you will be out of luck. Some other brands might have similar safety measures, as well.
3rd Party Screen Lock Apps
If you happen to use 3rd party apps to lock your screen, they can be easily bypassed if you boot into safe mode. But, this is less likely event for most ordinary users, which use stock screen lock mechanism that cannot be bypassed this way.
And, finally, there are various methods to remove the lock on rooted phones, but it will require – root access. A security measure not enabled / available by default on all factory Android phones on the market. In effect, most ordinary users will be out of their luck.
You can always perform a factory reset on your phone. This is not a real solution to the problem, it is a desperate measure to at least free your device. In most cases this will erase* all photos, music and files from your device’s internal memory, and the recovery procedure later might not be 100% possible! It is a high risk procedure, really.
Some phone manufacturers and device models, such as Meizu, do not delete user files from internal memory — even after factory reset!
Factory Reset Protection (FRP) available since Android 5.1 Lollipop and implemented by most manufacturers today will probably kick-in after resetting procedure, meaning you will have to log-in first thing after the reset with your existing Google account in order to proceed. There are certain ways to bypass it under special circumstances, but that falls out of the scope of this article. FRP was designed to prevent unauthorized uses of your phone in the first place. So, before resetting your phone, make sure you know which account (gmail) and password you use on your phone, you’ll need it after reset!
If you cannot be 100% confident that you can memorize the pattern, either do not use it or write it to a secret place as a reminder (which kind of defeats the purpose of security). Also, be cautious if your phone is used by your colleagues, friends and kids, they can accidentally set passwords out of curiosity or fun, and later be unable to remove it.
The best way is to re-secure your self from such unhappy events by taking precautionary steps: enable remote way to regain control of your device, namely, Google Find My Device or similar service offered by specific manufacturer.
Never take the chance to loose all your phone data by getting accidentally locked with your pictures, photos, memories!