Apple is making a change that protects the security of iPhone users, but will not endear the company to national law enforcement officials.
When iOS 12 rolls out this autumn, it will include the features the company talked about at last week’s developers conference, including Memoji and Group FaceTime, as well as some that were not highlighted in the keynote. The news today has to do with Apple's decision to disable your iPhone’s charging port (and headphone dongle port) from external access when your phone has been locked for more than an hour.
This matters, because the port has been a way in for authorities, who have used it in recent years to hack into the iPhones of individuals under investigation with third-party devices — free of Apple’s assistance. (You might remember 2016's public fight between the tech giant and the FBI, when Apple refused to help unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers.)
At the time, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter to customers, defending the decision as a matter of long-term user security:
"Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.
In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.
The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable."
According to The New York Times, the iOS 12 change will still allow users to charge their phones after an hour has passed, but will require them to enter a password before transferring any data, whether that's texts or photos. As expected, there are arguments on both sides of the issue: Those who support user security point to the ease with which someone other than law enforcement could obtain a device to hack into a phone, without the user's password. Those on the side of the federal authorities see it as a form of serious obstruction.
Apple's decision proves that even at a time when people are demanding stronger encryption from the services they use and greater privacy, not everyone will be pleased with the outcome.