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What is Apple's Digital Legacy?

We don't like to think about dying, and even less so the people we care about dying, but it's something we all have to deal with at various points throughout our lives.

In the old days as sad as someone's passing was, there was usually a simplicity to the physical things left behind. There were maybe some items, a few cherished photo albums, perhaps property and some money to be passed on, and then some papers and documents to go through and sort out. Some very emotional phone calls to make to companies, banks and service providers.

Today this can be much more complicated, with details of personal accounts being secured behind passwords, multi-factor authentication, biometric device protections and so forth. And of course this is how it should be, our digital life should be private and secure, but what if we want to keep our digital life private and secure while we're alive and also easily accessible to our loved ones (and only our loved ones) after we die?

Earlier this year, Apple announced its Digital Legacy programme, a way of passing on access to data held in your iCloud account in the event of your death.

This is how it works: you nominate someone you wish to have access to the data in your Apple iCloud account and you then have the option to send a digital key to them in a text message or print it out so it can be stored safely. When you die, they present that key to Apple along with a death certificate. They are then able to access the contents of your iCloud account, this includes things like photos, emails, notes, calendar events etc. What it does not include is licenced content - sorry folks, your purchased movies, music, books and such like are not able to be passed on. It also does not give access to your Keychain, so passwords and account login information will still be inaccessible.

Aside from the licenced content issue, and perhaps your Keychain, this is great!

Imagine, you're already going through the pain and sadness of losing a loved one then you also realise that you no longer have access to the thousands of pictures they had stored of the kids growing up, family holidays and so on. Then there are all of the emails about the bills that went to their email address.

I've dealt with this myself. The added pain of trying to sort out the numerous online accounts of a deceased loved one when you're already broken hearted shouldn't be underestimated. This Digital Legacy won't take all the hassle away from closing accounts and stopping payments as you won't have access to their Keychain and passwords, but it does help to be able to go through emails and retrieve relevant information.

Sadly, scammers - being as heartless they are – are likely to see this progress as an opportunity. I'm afraid it won't be too long before we start receiving emails and texts along the line of:

"Someone has added you as their Apple Digital Legacy recipient. Please click here to find out who"

This will of course be a link to a fake login page where you'll give your iCloud login and password to the scammers.

I hope I'm wrong but I'm sure I'm not. Criminals will take advantage of any situation they can to get what they want and this one will be no different. So, when that message comes through, don't click anything, open your browser and go directly to your iCloud account and check if it's legitimate. You should be able to deal with it from there rather than responding to an email.

At the time of writing, this is still in beta so the exact mechanisms for inviting and responding may change but a scammer won't need to use (or even appear to use) the proper method; as long as they can trick you into visiting a fake site and entering your details they've succeeded. We know that cyber criminals already use published obituaries to carry out identity theft, so we can imagine how they could combine this with digital legacy scams, piggybacking off the publication of obituaries to send a phish that uses digital legacy as the bait. When we are grieving, our judgement is likely to be clouded and so we could be more susceptible to being scammed.

Apologies for a slightly morbid post, but I believe it is a necessary one. A digital legacy obviously won't remove the pain of losing someone you care about, but it will be something they thought about and wanted you to have. So, we can take some comfort in that.

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