A planned change coming to Apple’s iOS operating system will undercut a popular law enforcement method for breaking into iPhones, rendering the technique obsolete.
Apple said as much to Reuters on Wednesday. The report specifically claims Apple is “aiming to protect all customers, especially in countries where phones are readily obtained by police or by criminals with extensive resources, and to head off further spread of the attack technique.”
The setting change will disallow any communication through an iPhone’s USB port when the phone has not been unlocked in the past hour. Companies have built tools that are able to access an iPhone through that port, and those tools have been marketed to law enforcement. Now, those tools will soon be useless after that hour window passes.
Apple said it was working on this change before these tools had gained popularity. The company told Reuters it will be made permanent in a forthcoming general release, likely iOS 12, which will probably be available in September. But Apple could choose to make the change even earlier than that, in an iOS 11 update.
Cause And Effect
“We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs,” Apple said, noting that law enforcement access isn’t the only reason the company is making this change.
As has been pointed out by Apple and others, if law enforcement has a technique enabling access to data on an iPhone, hackers likely have the same ability, as well.
Reuters claims this change could actually sell more of these hacking devices, “as law enforcement looks to get more forensic machines closer to where seizures occur.” This would allow police to more easily access an iPhone within that one-hour window.
But regardless, the dance will continue — people will try to figure out a new way to break into iPhones, and Apple will try to prevent it.