Police throughout the nation have been using a device called a GrayKey for months now to sidestep Apple’s default disk encryption to unlock dormant iPhones. At least five states and five federal agencies are currently using these breakthrough devices to collect evidence from encrypted devices.
However, Reuters is reporting that Apple plans to add a new feature to iOS that will make GrayKey devices useless when police try to bypass a person’s encrypted phone without their consent. This new release can possibly spark another standoff between law enforcement and device manufacturers over the issue of encryption.
With the new feature, iPhones will break communication through the USB port if they have not been unlocked in the last hour. After the hour has passed, the USB port can only be used to charge the phone. The result of this update will give police a much shorter time-frame to successfully deploy GrayKey devices.
The new feature is called “USB Restricted Mode” and has been put in developer betas for iOS 12 and iOS 11.4.1, but this is the first time there has been any indication that the feature is intended to be released to the public.
A report from Malware Bytes says that GrayKey works by installing a type of low-level software through the iPhone’s Lightning port. After the GrayKey is plugged into the device, the target iPhone will run the software on its own. The software displays the device’s passcode on-screen within two hours and three days after the software has been installed.
Although the issue of law enforcement accessing peoples phone’s without their permission is a sensitive one, the change will cut-off a whole class of threats to the iPhone’s Lightning port, including threats that can copy the techniques used by GrayKey. Apple calls the change a general security update instead of a specific response to law enforcement.
In a statement released to the public, one Apple representative said, “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. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”
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