ElcomSoft Claims It's Able to Recover Deleted iCloud Notes Well Past Apple's 30-Day Window
Russian software company ElcomSoft today claimed in a blog post that iCloud notes marked as deleted are being stored on Apple's servers well past the advertised 30-day period they are kept in the "Recently Deleted" folder.
ElcomSoft said it used an updated version of its Phone Breaker tool, version 6.5, to recover dozens of iCloud notes deleted more than a month ago. ElcomSoft said many of the notes were deleted a few weeks past the 30-day window, but in some cases, it was allegedly able to extract notes deleted "several months ago."
When a user deletes a note in Apple's Notes app, it's moved to the "Recently Deleted" folder, which explicitly states that "notes are permanently deleted after 30 days." Likewise, a support document on Apple's website says users can view and recover notes for up to 30 days before they're permanently deleted.
However, ElcomSoft CEO Vladimir Katalov said the oldest note it was able to retrieve was deleted around five years ago:
"We did it again," says Vladimir Katalov, ElcomSoft CEO. "After recovering deleted photos and Safari browsing history from iCloud, we now add the ability to recover deleted notes from the same source regardless of how much time has passed after the deletion. The oldest record we've been able to pull was deleted back in 2012."
In its blog post, ElcomSoft said it was able to extract 334 notes from an iPhone with only 288 notes stored on it, including those in the "Recently Deleted" folder. In other words, ElcomSoft claims it was able to recover 46 notes deleted more than 30 days ago, and that was only one example.
Nevertheless, ElcomSoft said that its ability to extract iCloud notes deleted more than 30 days ago is "not necessarily" guaranteed. "While some of our test accounts did indeed contain deleted notes going all the way back to 2015, some other accounts contained much less than that," it explained.
ElcomSoft said its Phone Breaker tool is the only software it knows of that can be used to recover iCloud notes deleted more than 30 days ago. It also said the latest version of its Phone Viewer tool is needed to view them. The tools start at $79 each and appear to be compatible with both Mac and Windows.
To extract and view deleted notes, ElcomSoft says all someone has to do is launch Phone Breaker version 6.5 or newer, click "Download Synced Data from iCloud," authenticate with an Apple ID and password or a binary authentication token, wait for the download to complete, and open the file in Phone Viewer.
ElcomSoft said "there is no doubt Apple will fix the current issue," but it didn't confirm if it has been in contact with the company. MacRumors has opted not to use the Phone Breaker tool out of an abundance of caution. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment today.
Last year, ElcomSoft generated headlines when it claimed Apple "secretly" syncs Phone and FaceTime call history logs on iCloud, even with backups turned off. In a statement, Apple said it offers call history syncing "as a convenience to our customers so that they can return calls from any of their devices."
In February, ElcomSoft also found that iCloud was allegedly storing deleted Safari browser history for a long period of time, ranging from several months to over a year. Forbes reported that Apple quietly "started purging older history records" once the news broke, but Apple never officially commented.