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Latest iPhone Update Attempts to Block Police Passcode Cracking Tools

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 25, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For better or worse, we live on our phones. And our smartphones contain a whole lot of data we'd rather not share with most people, including (and maybe especially) the police. Phone companies recognize security is a selling feature, so keeping your data safe from prying eyes has been a priority of late.

Last fall, Apple released a new "cop button" feature for the iPhone. And this month, the latest update to the iPhone's operating system includes a way to block USB devices being used by law enforcement and private companies to crack your passcode and encryption safeguards.

Restricted Access

Apple's new "USB Restricted Mode" makes it more difficult for anyone, including police, to break into your iPhone through device's Lightning port. As reported by The Verge:

If you go to Settings and check under Face ID (or Touch ID) & Passcode, you'll see a new toggle for USB Accessories. By default, the switch is off. This means that once your iPhone or iPad has been locked for over an hour straight, iOS will no longer allow USB accessories to connect to the device -- shutting out cracking tools like GrayKey as a result. If you've got accessories that you want to continue working after your iPhone has been sitting locked for awhile, you can toggle the option on to remove the hour limit.

You can see what the toggle switch looks like here:

Unrestricted Workarounds

The new feature is part of Apple's latest operating system update, iOS 11.4.1, and is said to be included on the next, iOS 12. And while that might sound like good news for data security and privacy advocates (and those who want to secure their phones from the cops), be warned: researchers at ElcomSoft revealed a $39 device workaround on the same day the new USB Restricted Mode was released. As long as police can seize an iPhone within an hour after the last unlock, they can simply connect the iPhone to a compatible Lightning accessory, which resets the clock and gives law enforcement time to transport the device to a lab and ostensibly crack the code.

So the privacy battle between Apple, law enforcement, iPhone users, and hackers continues, with each side trying to stay a step ahead of the latest tech.

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