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Police on the case of the iOS 12

June 14, 2018.

Police on the case of the iOS 12

Space gray iPhone X and black iPhone 7.

Space gray iPhone X and black iPhone 7. © iStock.

Apple is planning to add a new feature to iOS, an enhanced version of the “USB Restricted Mode” that appeared in beta iOS 11.4.1, making it much harder for law enforcement officers to access data on locked iPhones. If your future iOS 12 remains locked for over an hour, the feature will automatically turn the Lightning port into a charging-only port. In order to enable data transfer through this port, for example to connect a peripheral, you’ll have to unlock your phone. This feature seems to specifically target devices like the infamous GrayKey, a US$15,000 box that plugs into the Lightning port, currently used by law enforcement organizations to break into locked iPhones. The GrayKey can unlock a six-digit passcode in 11 hours on average, or a maximum of 22 hours. For years, police forces were able to break into phones by using software that tried every possible access code; that technique was foiled in 2010, when Apple made its iPhones deactivate after a certain number of unsuccessful tries. The GrayKey device seems to be able to circumvent this technology, allowing thousands of codes to be tried. In a piece in the New York Times, Apple stressed that it was not out to thwart law enforcement activities: “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, said Apple spokesperson Fred Sainz, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.” He stressed that Apple is constantly looking for ways to strengthen security and correct vulnerabilities, if only because criminals can also use the same holes that police use. Hillar Moore, the district attorney in Baton Rouge, La., had this to say: “They are blatantly protecting criminal activity, and only under the guise of privacy for their clients.” And speaking of the Lightning port, persistent rumors predict that in the next generation of iPhones, the port will be replaced by a USB C. This seems doubtful to us, since Apple has every interest to keep a proprietary connection on its phones.

Update: Grayshift, the manufacturer of the GrayKey, might have found a way out. But maybe it’s just a bluff.

AppleInsider, “Researcher estimates GrayKey can unlock 6-digit iPhone passcode in 11 hours, here’s how to protect yourself.”

The New York Times, “Apple to close iPhone security hole that law enforcement uses to crack devices.”

Mashable, “Next year’s iPhone might have a USB-C instead of Lightning connector.”