In an apparent fight back against moves by law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity firms such as Cellebrite to crack their encryption, Apple is currently testing an iOS 11.4 beta update for iPhones and iPads.
According to Apple, the iOS 11.4 update will be equipped with a new USB Restricted Mode. Usually for a locked device to communicate with USB accessories you must connect an accessory through a lightning connector to the device while unlocked. Or enter a passcode while connected.
The lightning connector is an 8-pin connector developed by Apple in 2012 for its series of iOS devices. The Lightning connector is used to provide communication with a computer and supply power to Apple devices.
It is used and supported by the iPhone 5, iPad Mini, iPad 4, and the fourth-generation iPod Touch and iPod Nano.
It is also the major route by which iPhone cracking firms such as Cellebrite and GrayShift are able to break Apple’s encryption.
At present the details on the iOS 11.4 update are sketchy but it is a given that once it is issued law enforcement agencies will respond as they are committed to opposing Apple’s encryption module.
In March, the Israeli cybersecurity firm Cellebrite boasted it had developed techniques that could unlock any Apple iOS device and recently the US Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security ordered products from GrayShift that targeted the lightning port of Apple products.
This has led to a war of attrition between US law enforcement agencies and Apple over security. The catalyst for this was the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack when the FBI sought to gain access to one of the terrorist’s iPhone.
The FBI took Apple to court over Apple’s refusal to open the phone. The FBI eventually paid more than one million dollars to a third-party company, believed to have been Cellebrite, to unlock the phone.
Following the Edward Snowden revelations, Apple introduced encryption into its iPhone operating systems in 2014. This was a departure from before when law enforcement agencies could get access to an Apple device through a search warrant.
The battle over encryption has had far-reaching and ongoing implications about digital privacy. Apple believe they are protected by America’s free-speech law and the latest move by Apple is seen as their response to technological gains made by firms such as Cellebrite.