Apple beefs up iPhone encryption in blow to FBI snoops

Apple has announced that it is strengthening the online encryption on its iPhone devices in a move which is seen by many as a direct response to reports that the FBI is now able to unlock passcode-protected devices.

The curse of GreyKey

We reported last month that the FBI is now reportedly in possession of a tool called GreyKey. This rather simple-sounding tool, which consists of a small box with two lightning cables can apparently unlock any iPhone at a relatively low price of just $30,000 for an unlimited number of unlocks.

GreyKey reportedly works by installing software onto the device through its USB port which will run on its own until it displays the device passcode after anything between two hours and three days.

The news was revealed in a report by Vice News and came after it was reported that the FBI had paid $1 million to an Israeli firm to help it unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist.

It always seemed unlikely that Apple would take this lying down and now it seems they have struck back. Reuters has reported that the latest version of their iOS operating system for iPhone’s will include a security update that will stop GreyKey from being able to divulge a devices passcode.

Apple fights back with new ‘USB Restricted Mode’

The new updated iOS will include a new feature called ‘USB Restricted Mode.’ This will stop anything from being able to communicate with the device through its USB port if it has been locked for more than one hour.

The move is likely to garner consternation from the law enforcement community and lead to fresh calls for regulation to be brought in to force companies to allow access to encrypted devices and communications.

But Apple is resolute in their stance that this security update, and their use of encryption more generally, is intended to protect their users. In a statement, they stressed that encryption is a vital tool against hackers, identity thieves, and other malicious online actors.

They were also at pains to emphasise that this update is not deliberately intended to stop law enforcement agents from being able to do their job. “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs,” they added.

The timeline being the ‘USB Restricted Mode’ feature seems to back that up. It has been spotted present in the developer betas for both iOS 12 and iOS 11.4.1, but failed to make it into the final update.

VPNs still recommended with all iOS devices

But now Apple is ready to roll it out and it seems that will mean that hackers, identity thieves, and the FBI will now have to go back to the drawing board and try to find a new way to crack passcode protected iPhones.

While that will be a daunting task, the likelihood is that sooner or later, another vulnerability will be found by someone. But as soon as Apple gets wind of it, this flaw in the coding will swiftly be closed.

Apple’s commitment to customer security and privacy is one of the main reasons for their popular and commercial success. But no tech company can offer a 100% guarantee on device security.

This is why, even though iPhone’s and iPad’s are among the most secure devices around, it is still advisable to use a VPN with them. VPNs encrypt all of your online data and are an essential tool to keep your activity private and secure at all times.

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