Apple’s ongoing efforts to protect iPhone users from law enforcement agencies is one of the most intriguing tech issues of modern times.
On one hand, Apple’s refusal to unlock handsets of criminal suspects can hinder serious investigations. On the other hand, it gives users faith Apple won’t willingly sell their data down the river under any circumstances.
Today, the plot thickened. It has emerged Apple has further strengthened the iPhone’s defences against potential prying from the likes of the FBI.
The latest beta for iOS 11.4 features a new USB Restricted Mode. This will disable USB data transfer from the Lightning connector, if the device hasn’t been unlocked in seven consecutive days.
The idea here is to prevent physical harvesting of the data by plugging the phone into a computer using a USB-to-Lightning cable.
This should nullify tools like the GreyKey box, typically used by law enforcement agencies to crack iPhones protected by passcodes and biometric security methods.
Once the Restricted Mode comes into effect, users will have to connect to a USB transfer device while the phone is unlocked in order to regain the full functionality.
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In the documents sent out to developers (via MacRumors) using the iOS 11.4 beta, Apple says: “To improve security, for a locked iOS device to communicate with USB accessories you must connect an accessory via Lightning connector to the device while unlocked – or enter your device passcode while connected – at least once a week.”
First reported in a blog post from the Elcomsoft security software firm, the new mode means devices can only be charged via USB following that 7 day period.
The post reads:
“At this point, it is still unclear whether the USB port is blocked if the device has not been unlocked with a passcode for 7 consecutive days; if the device has not been unlocked at all (password or biometrics); or if the device has not been unlocked or connected to a trusted USB device or computer.
“In our test, we were able to confirm the USB lock after the device has been left idle for 7 days. During this period, we have not tried to unlock the device with Touch ID or connect it to a paired USB device. What we do know, however, is that after the 7 days the Lightning port is only good for charging.”
We’ll be keeping our eyes on this one as the iOS 11.4 release nears.
Do you think Apple should be more forthcoming with law enforcement agencies investigating serious crimes? Or does the firm’s stance help you sleep at night? Let us know @TrustedReviews on Twitter.
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