Apple Inc said on Wednesday it will change its iPhone settings to undercut the most popular means for law enforcement to break into the devices.
The company told Reuters it was aiming to protect customers in countries where police seize phones at will and all users from the risk that the attack technique will leak to spies and criminals.
The privacy standard-bearer of the tech industry said it will change the default settings in the iPhone operating system to cut off communication through the USB port when the phone has not been unlocked in the past hour. That port is how machines made by forensic companies GrayShift, Cellebrite and others connect and get around the security provisions that limit how many password guesses can be made before the device freezes them out or erases data.
These companies have marketed their machines to law enforcement in multiple countries this year, offering the machines themselves for thousands of dollars but also per-phone pricing as low as $50.
Apple representatives said the change in settings will protect customers in countries where law enforcement seizes and tries to crack phones with fewer legal restrictions than under U.S. law. They also noted that criminals, spies and unscrupulous people often can use the same techniques to extract sensitive information from a phone. Some of the methods most prized by intelligence agencies have been leaked on the internet.
“We’re constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves and intrusions into their personal data,” Apple said in a prepared statement. “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”
The switch had been documented in beta versions of iOS 11.4.1 and iOS12, and Apple told Reuters it will be made permanent in a forthcoming general release.
Apple said that after it learned of techniques being used against iPhones, it reviewed the operating system code and made a number of improvements to the security. It also decided to simply alter the setting, a cruder way of preventing most of the potential access by unfriendly parties.
With the new settings, police or hackers will typically have an hour or less to get a phone to a cracking machine. In practical terms, that could cut access by as much as 90 percent, security researchers estimate.
In theory, the change could also spur sales of cracking devices, as law enforcement looks to get more forensic machines closer to where seizures occur.
Either way, researchers and police vendors will find new ways to break into phones, and Apple will then look to patch those vulnerabilities.
The latest step could draw criticism from American police departments, the FBI, and perhaps the U.S. Justice Department, where officials have recently renewed an on-again, off-again campaign for legislation or other extraordinary means of forcing technology companies to maintain access to their users’ communications.
Apple has been the most prominent opponent of those demands. In 2016, it went to court to fight an order that it break into an iPhone 5c used by a terrorist killer in San Bernardino.
Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Greg Mitchell and David Gregorio
‘It’s the first time I’ve played golf in almost 3 months’: Trump makes excuses for golfing during coronavirus pandemic
President Donald Trump was blasted on Sunday for playing golf during the coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic economic recession and after proclaiming churches "essential."
Instead of joining his voters sitting in the pews, Trump went for the links, which drew criticisms for the hypocrisy.
"Sleepy Joe’s representatives have just put out an ad saying that I went to play golf (exercise) today. They think I should stay in the White House at all times. What they didn’t say is that it’s the first time I’ve played golf in almost 3 months, that Biden was constantly vacationing, relaxing & making shady deals with other countries, & that Barack was always playing golf, doing much of his traveling in a fume spewing 747 to play golf in Hawaii - Once even teeing off immediately after announcing the gruesome death of a great young man by ISIS!" tweeted Trump.
Dealmaker Donald Trump made overly-expensive deals with companies to buy supplies to fight the coronavirus
President Donald Trump proclaimed that he would make a deal with a company that could sterilize masks about 20 times. The company he was so captured by had appeared on Steve Bannon's podcast and
NBC political analyst Jon Allen explained that a company called Prestige Ameritech has been arguing for years that there is not enough domestic manufacturing. When Bannon introduced the head of the company to the Trump administration's Peter Navarro, it was a marriage of convenience.
"It's one of two contracts in the history of the American contracting database which goes back now 15 or so years where it says the White House ordered this," said Allen.
Michigan lieutenant governor thinks Trump is creating mail-in-ballot conspiracy to explain away his loss in November
President Donald Trump is already making excuses for his loss in November, said Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist in an interview with MSNBC's Kasie Hunt.
Speaking to her Sunday, Gilchrist said that he thinks all of this is a set-up.
"The truth is more people are killed by deer in a year than have ever been proven to commit voter fraud at a given time," he explained. Indeed, more people are killed by lightning, vending machines falling on them, falling coconuts and champagne corks than commit voter fraud each year.