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When it comes to mobile operating systems, iOS 12 is generally considered to be one of the most secure — if not the leader — in mobile security. It’s now a little more than a year old, and its features may be a bit overshadowed by the launch of iOS 13. Still, a considerable number of devices run iOS 12, and developers should know about its security features.

Further Reading

If you want to build iOS 12 applications from scratch with the latest Swift 4.2 language and Xcode 10, explore our book iOS 12 Programming for Beginners by Craig Clayton. 

For beginners, this book starts by introducing you to iOS development as you learn Xcode 10 and Swift 4.2. You’ll also study advanced iOS design topics, such as gestures and animations. The book also details new iOS 12 features, such as the latest in notifications, custom-UI notifications, maps, and the recent additions in Sirikit. 

Below are the most prominent changes iOS 12 made in terms of security. Based on these changes, app developers can take advantage of several safety features if they want to build secure mobile apps for devices running on this OS.

Major security features in iOS 12

iOS 12’s biggest security upgrades were primarily outright new features. In general, these changes reflected a pivot towards privacy, i.e., giving users more control over how their data can be collected and used, as well as towards better password and device security.

  • Default updating: Automatic software updates are now turned on by default. This feature is good news for developers — if they need to push an update that patches a major security flaw, most users will update to the more secure version of the app automatically. Users are also likely to have the most secure version of first-party apps and iOS 12.
  • Password auditing: iOS 12’s password auditing tools let users know when they’ve used the same password more than twice — devices themselves now encourage users to create strong and secure passwords when logging into their apps. The OS keeps a record of all passwords a user creates and stores them on the iCloud. While this feature may not sound particularly secure — especially considering iCloud’s discovered security flaw last year — all these passwords are encrypted with AES-256.
  • USB connection: If a user hasn’t unlocked a device running iOS 12 in more than an hour, USB devices won’t be able to connect.
  • Safari upgrades: The mobile version of Safari will now, by default, prevent websites from using tracking cookies without explicit user permission.
  • 2FA integration: iOS 12 offers better native integration with two-factor authentication (2FA). If an app uses 2FA and sends a security code to a user’s phone over text, iOS 12 can autofill the security code field for the user. This may be a good reason for developers to consider implementing 2FA functionality if their apps don’t already support it.

Improvements in iOS 12 specific to app developers

Other changes in iOS 12 were more subtle to end-users but more relevant to app developers.

  • Automated password generation: Since iOS 11, developers have been able to label their password and username fields, allowing users to automatically populate these fields with saved passwords and usernames for a specific app or Safari webpage. With iOS 12’s new functionality, users can have iOS 12 generate a unique, strong password that fills the password field once prompted by an app.
  • In-house business app development: Apple now supports the development of in-house business apps. Businesses that partner with Apple through the Apple Developer Enterprise Program can develop apps that work only on specific, permitted devices.
  • Sandboxed apps: By default, all third-party apps are now sandboxed and cannot directly access files modified by other apps. If an app needs to alter files outside of its specific home directory — which is randomly assigned by iOS 12 on install — it will do so through iOS. The same is true for all system files and resources. If an app needs to run a background process, it can do so only through system-provided APIs.
  • Content sharing: Apps created by the same developer can share content — like user preferences and stored data — with each other when configured to be part of an App Group.
  • App frameworks: New software development frameworks like HomeKit are now available to developers working with iOS 12. HomeKit allows developers to create apps that configure or otherwise communicate with smart home appliances and IoT devices. Likewise, SiriKit lets developers update their apps to work with user requests that originate from Siri and Maps.

Editor’s tip: To learn more about SirKit you can through Chapter 24 of the book iOS 12 Programming for Beginners by Packt Publishing.

  • Handoff: iOS 12’s new Handoff feature allows developers to design apps and websites so that users can use an app one device, then seamlessly transfer their activity to another. The feature will be useful for developers working on apps that also have web versions.

App Store review guideline updates with iOS 12

Along with the launch of iOS 12 came some changes to the App Store review guidelines. App developers will need to be aware of these if they want to continue developing programs for iOS devices.

Apple now limits the amount of data, developers can collect from user’s address books — and how apps are allowed to use this data. This fact doesn’t bar developers from using an iPhone’s address book to add social functionality to their apps. Developers can still scan a user’s contact lists to allow users to send invites or to link users up with friends who also use a specific app.

Developers, however, can’t maintain and transfer databases of user address information. Apple also banned the selling of user info to third parties. Some tech analysts consider this a response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal of last year, as well as growing discontentment over how large companies were collecting and using user data.

Depending on how a developer plans on using user data, these guidelines may not bring about huge changes. However, app designers may want to review what data collection is allowed and how they can use that data.

Over time, iOS security updates have trended towards giving users more control over their data, apps less control over the system and developers more APIs for adding specific functionality. Following that trend, iOS 12 is built with user security in mind. For developers, implementing security features will be easier than it has been in the past — and they can also feel more confident that the devices accessing their app are secure.

Some of these changes make apps more secure for developers — like the addition of password auditing and better 2FA authentication. Others, like app sandboxing and the updates to the app store review guidelines, may require more planning from app developers than Apple has asked for in the past.

To start building iOS 12 applications of your own with Xcode 10 and Swift 4.2, the building blocks of iOS development, read the book iOS 12 Programming for Beginners by Packt Publishing.

Author Bio

Kayla Matthews writes about big data, cybersecurity, and technology. You can find her work on The Week, Information Age, KDnuggets and CloudTweaks, or over at ProductivityBytes.com.