Apple Is Making It Way Harder For Authorities To Break Into Your Cellphone, Says Report

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

Apple is reportedly rolling at a new version of its operating system — what will likely be referred to as iOS 12 — that will obstruct a path law enforcement often uses to unlock iPhones.

Known as USB Restricted Mode, the fairly new feature will block access to a smartphone via the USB Port, which is used for many means like charging and connecting certain accessories. When the function is employed — which is set to be the default, according to TechCrunch — the phone can be charged, but the port can’t be used in any other way one hour after the initial locking of the iPhone.

In other words, communication through that means will be shut off completely after the phone’s been idle for that time period, meaning code-crackers and the technologies used by law enforcement will only have a relatively brief opportunity to break their way in. Cybersecurity experts and devices that are allegedly able to infiltrate locked iPhones can take more than three days for lengthier, more complex passcodes, but also as little as two hours.

“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 told TechCrunch in a 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 technological component was first implemented in the test version of the iOS 11.3 operating system, but will now be fully available.

Law enforcement agencies — both local police departments and federal bureaus — across the country have been purchasing (or exploring the acquisitions of) technology that is able to circumvent the protections embedded in encrypted cellphones, according to a Motherboard investigation. This appetite seems to show how much authorities struggle to obtain potential evidence within a mobile device, like communications and other content — although the extent of which was grossly inflated.

Apple in particular has sparked the ire of the larger law enforcement community, as there have been several instances where police and investigators say they can’t get what they ostensibly need and Apple refuses to upend their technological safeguards.

For example, then-FBI Director James Comey pressured Apple CEO Tim Cook in early 2016 to help his crew unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company will not unlock the phone because it would require inventing the “software equivalent of cancer,” which can compromise the private information of all iPhone users. In other words, he argues that a dubiously defined backdoor would be a backdoor for all — both crime stoppers and crime doers.

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a back door,” Cook continued. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.” (RELATED: Americans Split On If Police Should Be Able To Force You To Unlock Your Phones)

Like clockwork, the apparent hostilities occurred multiple times after, both respectively with the phones of the 26-year-old who shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the man who assassinated Russia’s ambassador to Turkey during a live event.

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