You must have heard about the incident where the FBI was looking to unlock the iPhone of a mass shooting suspect (one of the attackers in the San Bernardino shooting in 2015). The feds could not unlock the phone, as Apple didn’t budge from their stand of protecting user data. After a few days, police said that they have found a private agency to open the phone.
The seed of that feud between the feds and Apple has evolved into a fully grown tree now. This month, Apple announced a new security feature called restricted USB mode. This disables the device’s lightning port after one hour of being locked.
Quite expectedly, the law enforcement agencies are not at ease with this particular development. This feature was first introduced in the iOS 11.3 release and then retracted in the next release. But now Apple plans to introduce this feature in the upcoming iOS 12 beta release. The reason as stated by Apple is to protect user data from third party hackers and malwares which have the potential to access iPhone data remotely.
You must be wondering, to what extent are these threats genuine. Whether this will mean you locking yourself out of your phone unwittingly with nothing to get you out of the situation.
Well, the answer is multilayered.
Firstly, if you are not an avid supporter of data privacy and feel you have nothing to hide, then this move might just annoy you for a while. You might wonder about times when your phone is locked and suddenly forget your unlocking/ passkey. Pretty simple, write it somewhere safe and remember where you have kept it.
But in case you are like me, you keep seeing the recent news of user data being hacked, and that worries you. Users are being profiled by different companies for varying end objectives from selling products to shaping up your opinion about politics and other aspects of your life. As such this news might make you a bit comfortable about your next iOS update.
Private agencies coming up with solutions to open locked iPhones worried Apple. Companies like Cellebrite and Grayshift are selling devices that can hack any locked Apple device (iPhone and iPad) by using the lightning port. The apparent price of one such device is around 15k USD. What prompted Apple to introduce this security feature into their devices was that government agencies were buying these devices on a regular basis to hack into devices. Hence the threat was real, and the only way to address over 700 million iPhone users’ fears seemed to be introducing the USB restricted mode.
The war is however just beginning. Third party companies are already claiming that they have devised a way to overcome this new security feature, which is yet unconfirmed. But Apple is sure to take cognizance of this fact and press their developers more to stay ahead in this cat and mouse game. This has not gone well with the law enforcement agencies as well, they see it as an attempt by Apple to create more hurdles in preventing serious and heinous crimes such as paedophilia. Their side of the argument states that now with the one hour timer since the user locks his or her phone, it becomes much more difficult for them to indict the guilty because they have more room to escape.
What do you think this means? Does this give you more faith on your Apple product and will it really compel you to buy that $1200 iPhone with the confidence that your banking data, personal messages, pictures and your other sensitive data are safe at the hands of Apple? Or will it empower the perpetrators of crime to have more confidence that now their activities are not just protected by a passkey, but by an hour of time since they lock it, after which it becomes a black box?
No matter what your thoughts are, the war is on, between hackers and Apple. If you belong to either of these communities, these are exciting times. If you are one of the 700 million Apple users, you can feel a bit more secure after the iOS 12 update rolls out.