My iMac has been locked out of iCloud for three months … and Apple made it worse!

My 2017 iMac is now fully logged out and locked out of iCloud. It is running Ventura 13.6.3 booting from an external 2TB SSD. If I go to System Settings and click on Sign in with your Apple ID, I can enter my ID and password, the gear spins, and I’m back to where I started.

Here’s what happened. After I returned home from a vacation around October 11 and turned on the iMac (then running Monterey), the internal fusion disk failed. Not completely – it functioned but just beachballed for several seconds after every input. I was not totally surprised as I had seen some flaky behavior previously.

I purchased a Samsung 2TB T7, installed Monterey on it (via Apple, it wouldn’t let me install Ventura), then used Migration Assistant to restore from one of my backups.

I don’t have full notes of what happened initially, but my Apple ID was not accepted. “This Mac can’t connect to iCloud because of a problem with [my Apple ID]. Open Apple ID preferences to fix this problem.” In Apple ID Preferences, I saw the uninformative message “Some account services require you to sign in again.” I must have tried signing in but was unsuccessful, but the problem resolved itself in a few days.

I then updated to 12.7.1 and the problem recurred. As I recall, I was not prompted for my Apple ID after the update. By now it was the end of October and after waiting a few days, I opened a case with Apple support.

I should mention here that I was in that Twilight Zone of being partially logged in to iCloud. Messages on the iMac seemed to work completely. The Photos app was up to date until the problem occurred; since then, nothing had been added via iCloud. Notes, Reminders, and Contacts were the same way; my data was there but essentially had been frozen. Calendar only uses subscriptions, so that wasn’t affected.

I wasted my time with several chats to different support representatives, you know, boot, safe boot, clean up some stuff, rinse and repeat. I was finally told to update to Ventura and update my mobile devices to iOS/iPadOS 17 (they were still on 16 at the time).

It took me a couple of weeks until I completed all the upgrades. Now on Ventura, in the brand-new System Settings, I had nowhere to enter my Apple ID! There was no “Sign in with your Apple ID” anywhere. There was a “Sign out” however.

Eventually I got “promoted” to second-level support, or whatever it’s called, where I retained the same representative and we had email communication. He had me try some things, similar to what I did before. Clean up any unused login items, had me clean out cruft in my LaunchAgents folders, had me delete my VPN app (!), etc. Somewhere along the line, I discovered that a clean account on my iMac could log in without any problem. So, something on my iMac triggered this – not a surprise. But what, since it started with a clean OS install plus a restore from a backup of a previously working installation.

By this time, 13.6.3 had come out and I updated at Apple’s request. This restored the “Sign in with your Apple ID” button, but it still wouldn’t log me on. Eventually the rep asked me to sign completely out of Apple ID. I had declined to do this previously, since I at least had data up to mid-October on the Mac. (My iPhone and iPad had no problems and were syncing with iCloud fine.) However, I was trapped. I couldn’t prove that it wouldn’t work, though I very strongly suspected that.

I signed out. My data disappeared completely from Messages, Notes, Reminders, and Contacts. My Photos are still there, though still not updated. I still cannot log in, same behavior. So I’m worse off than before.

There are some other quirks. MacOS is forcing me to have a login password; it ignores my setting to not have one. I cannot log in to Microsoft OneDrive from OneNote, either. Box, which I have but no longer use, seems to be working okay. Sync, which I do use, works fine.

Some time prior to this I tried logging into on Safari. At the time I was in the Twilight Zone, so my Apple ID was filled in. I entered my password. The message “Sign Up Not Completed” flashed briefly, then I was back on the sign in page with no Apple ID filled in. I filled in my Apple ID and password, and then I was logged in successfully. I repeated this process several times with the same result.

In late December, the support rep had me run a program that gathered data from my system, which I then uploaded to Apple. We had one brief conversation on January 4, during which he said “the case is with Engineering, and we’ll get in touch when we have some information.” No surprise, I have not heard from Apple since then.

It’s sad how much Apple software has declined in quantity. Yesterday something strange started happening on my iPhone (13Pro, 17.2.1) – it just popped up, it’s nothing that I could have done in error nor does it have any effect on the operation of the phone, it’s just a sign of incredibly poor software.

I think a long time ago if I was in your situation I probably would have tried just creating a new account and manually moved files over and deleted the bad account as soon as I verified that things were working. If that didn’t work I just would have factory reset the Mac and started from scratch.

I have steps listed to recreate my account (not all of the settings, but many of them) as a sort of disaster recovery plan, though when I get a new Mac I use that list - I rarely migrate from an older Mac. My exceptions to not migrating are the family iMac that my wife uses when she uses a Mac (very rarely these days - she’s an iPad primary user for computing, and has been for a while), and the media server Mac mini I have in the basement, but even that I could build from scratch if I needed to.

Can you log in to your Apple account via Safari?

Thanks for your replies. @medievalist Yes, I can log in via Safari, but it’s just not as convenient as using the apps. Having not ever needing to do that before, it is a bit foreign to me. I would consider that a workaround, not a solution. @ddmiller I thought of moving my files to a clean account, but I’m not sure how to do that and how much work it would be. Permissions always seemed like black magic to me. I had already been planning to replace the iMac this year, since it does not support the current OS and I would certainly like to get to Apple Silicon. The 24" iMac is not big enough for me, so I was hoping to wait for the M3 Mac mini, just to have a nearly brand new model. However, if there’s no new mini by the end of March, I’ll go with an M2. And I will do a clean install, gradually, to make sure I catch any glitches promptly.

Isn’t there a newer rule by Apple that if the internal drive is not accessible, the Mac can’t boot, even if you have a bootable external drive?

I think Bombich talked about it. Might be here somewhere?

Yes and no, depending on your definition of “is not accessible”.

On any Apple Silicon Mac, there is some pre-boot code on the internal SSD (the “ISC” APFS container) that must load before anything else can be booted. This is functionally equivalent to older (Intel and PPC) Macs’ Boot ROMs. If that ISC container is missing or corrupt, then nothing can boot (but you should be able to use Configurator from another Mac to re-create it).

On the other hand, if you have an Apple Silicon Mac where the ISC container is intact but the macOS container is not accessible (corrupt or missing), then I think you can jump through a few hoops to boot from a macOS container on an external drive.

But this does mean that if your internal SSD suffers a hardware failure, such that the ISC container is unusable and you can’t write a new one from Configurator, then you can’t boot from anything else. You would need to replace the SSD.

On a Studio or a Mac Pro, the SSD flash modules are theoretically user-replaceable, but on any other Mac, they’re soldered down. But even if you can physically replace them, you would need to cryptographically pair the new modules with the Mac, which requires proprietary software that Apple does not make available.

IMO, Apple should make a design change to avoid this mess. Instead of installing one SSD, they should install two. A small one (maybe a cheap eMMC flash module) that only holds the ISC container and a big one (whatever size you paid for) containing everything else. The idea being that the ISC container is very rarely written, so that flash chip will never wear out. So if the main SSD fails, you will always be able to boot/install external media.

Thanks for those details.

Yea. This is an ancient concept. Our forefathers called it “ROM”. The current design is a disaster.

1 Like

Theoretically and for some corner cases, I would say yes. It’s really too soon to know if for all practical purposes the current design is a “disaster”. I would wager to bet that there’s little to no field feedback on how prevalent SSD failures due to excessive writes on M-series Macs really are.

1 Like

I guess I agree. But although they were Intel, I have had several Mac’s now that only survived by booting from external drives after their internal drives died or became weak. Yes they were probably spinners which could change this story significantly. This may also depend on how protected Apple keeps the “ROM” area of the new SSDs from regular wear and tear.

Those areas of the SSD are so rarely written to (and, yes, I know that SSDs do wear-leveling, but you don’t need to do that with disk sectors that rarely get writes) that I’m betting this is more a theory than an actual cause for concern. I’m not even seeing anecdotes that report this issue.

You might be right. But I think it’s too early for any M-series anecdotes to start arriving. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

You might be interested in this post.

Three years of use, TBW 1.15 petabytes written, 36% SSD life used. I am watching my numbers but don’t come anywhere near writing that much.

Sure, but the area of the SSD that holds this ISC container is hardly ever over-written.

Except possibly for this case:

But that may not be due to SSD wear, especially since the computer was so new. Sadly, we will never know the truth because Apple never publishes the reason for failures when computers are returned for warranty service.

Not sure if this is your problem…
From an Apple Discussion group.
I ran into this problem as well after being forced by a weird popup on into changing my Apple ID’s primary email address. Bad idea. My iMac now wasn’t logged in anymore, but it wasn’t really logged out either. I deactivated and removed everything I could, to no avail.

Then I found this tip on a developer’s blog and this did the trick for me.

Open the Terminal app

Type defaults delete MobileMeAccounts

Hit enter to execute this command. This will force macOS to sign you out of iCloud - now you should be able to log in from the iCloud pane in System Preferences

1 Like

Thank you! I decided to do a search on that command, and that pointed to a wealth of discussions about this problem. I’m not sure why, over all these months, I never tried a simple search… Anyway, that command seems to work for some people and not others. There are other suggestions about cleaning up iCloud related files that might be corrupted.

I’m not quite ready to try any of these because I’m not sure what will happen when my iMac does log in. To take one example, on the iMac, I have all my contacts but they are now listed under “On My Mac.” I’m pretty sure they used to be under iCloud, since I’ve never needed to have info on my Mac that’s not on my other devices. Will iCloud just download the contacts it now has as iCloud-connected ones, making hundreds of duplicates? Will it erase what I now have on the iMac and just download from iCloud? That could be a problem because I may have added some Contacts on the iMac since I got logged out.

I just need to look through all my iCloud connected apps (including at least one third-party app) and try to make sure I don’t lose any data.

The real disturbing thing is that none of the many people I spoke to at Apple Support seemed to have any knowledge of these possible solutions, including two senior-level support reps. None even mentioned the fact that there is an iCloud database on the Mac. I guess, to paraphrase Ghostbusters: I know who I’m not gonna call in the future.

I think you may be reading too much into this problem … the contacts OnMyMac will remain there, and when successfully logged into iCloud you can move them into iCloud, then use the Contacts → Card → Look for Duplicates… command.
When you disconnect your iCloud (using the Terminal command above), and then re-sign in to iCloud, everything that is now in iCloud will be available on your Mac. (up to you if you have Optimize turned on; and/or Desktop & Documents in iCloud).
I’m pretty confident you will not lose anything. :grinning:
An option is to set up on another Mac (temporarily), sign in to your iCloud account and move files that are not in iCloud (if any) via AirDrop. Then (on your Mac), create a dummy “admin” account, and delete the account on your Mac you’ve had problems with, then re-create your account and sign in to iCloud.
Also remember, if you have lots and lots of files in iCloud (like 50 GB or more) it make take hours (or days) for all the data to sync (and show up on your Mac). So be patient with that. It looks like nothing is happening, but those apple icloud duck-feet are churning ferociously under the water!

Have you tried crerating a new User on your Mac and seeing if you can access your account from it?

@medievalist Yes, I can log in to iCloud using a new account, as mentioned in my original post. So the problem is something specific to my account and not global. That narrows it down a bit.

@macgarry Thanks, that’s reassuring. I have plenty of backups of my iMac. I just want to know what’s where, just in case. Files are not a problem. As a general rule, I never have any files that are only in cloud storage, Apple’s or other. I use clouds for inter-device access and for sharing files with others. All my files are on my iMac where I know there are several backups. It’s data, like contacts, that I’m more concerned with.