Apple Confirms Plans to Disable Law Enforcement Access to iPhone via Tools Like GrayKey Box

Apple has confirmed that it is closing a technological loophole that allows law enforcement officials to hack into iPhones through USB-based hardware solutions like the GrayKey box, reports The New York Times.

Apple said it was planning an iPhone software update that would effectively disable the phone's charging and data port -- the opening where users plug in headphones, power cables and adapters -- an hour after the phone is locked. In order to transfer data to or from the iPhone using the port, a person would first need to enter the phone's password.

As we shared last week, the feature that prevents USB accessories from connecting to an iPhone or iPad if it's been more than an hour since the device was last unlocked is included in iOS 12. This setting is enabled by default and it will not allow USB-based accessories like the GrayKey box to connect to an iOS device until a passcode is entered. Charging, however, is still possible as it does not require a data connection.

ios12usbaccessoriessetting
Apple's new setting effectively disables the techniques that law enforcement officials have been using to access locked iPhones over the past couple of years. A current popular iPhone unlocking option, for example, is the GrayKey box, which has been sold to hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the United States.

The GrayKey box is designed to plug into the Lightning port of an iPhone where it uses a data connection to brute force a passcode in as little as a few hours. With the change, the GrayKey box will not work on an iPhone unless it has been less than an hour since the device was last unlocked. The short time period available for access via USB essentially renders the GrayKey box useless.

Located under Touch ID & Passcode, the USB access setting can be disabled, but most users will have no reason to turn it off as there's no real benefit to doing so. All iOS devices will have this setting turned on by default after upgrading to iOS 12, which means law enforcement officials will have a much more difficult time accessing devices running iOS 12 and beyond.

As The New York Times points out, law enforcement officials have become aware of the changes Apple is planning to implement in iOS 12 and they're not happy. Chuck Cohen, who leads an Indiana State Police task force on internet crimes against children, told The New York Times that the Indiana State Police had unlocked 96 iPhones using the GrayKey box in 2017.

"If we go back to the situation where we again don't have access, now we know directly all the evidence we've lost and all the kids we can't put into a position of safety," said Cohen.

iPhone unlocking devices like the GrayKey box, however, are often not only used by law enforcement officials and can be used by hackers and other nefarious individuals, making it crucial for Apple to patch the security flaw that allows the devices to work.

Apple is not aiming to thwart law enforcement efforts with its on-device security changes. The company regularly complies with requests for the data that it stores on its servers, and has a dedicated team of professionals to respond to these requests. Since 2013, Apple has responded to more than 55,000 U.S. government requests seeking information relating to over 208,000 devices, accounts, or financial identifiers.

Apple also has a team for responding to national security requests, and in 2017 alone, Apple received 29,250-29,748 National Security Requests from the U.S. government. Specific numbers are not available because of U.S. law.

An Apple spokesperson told MacRumors that Apple is always working on strengthening security protections and addressing iPhone vulnerabilities as quickly as possible to defend customers against hackers.

"At Apple, we put the customer at the center of everything we design. 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."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

cycomiko Avatar
51 months ago
So they went straight to the old trope of "won't somebody think o the children"
Score: 63 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dwman Avatar
51 months ago
Given the current nature of our banana republic and the slow creep towards 24hr surveillance of law-abiding citizens, this is a prudent move by Apple. Glad they have the guts to stand up for their users rights.
Score: 51 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KPandian1 Avatar
51 months ago
Now, wait for the knee-jerk reaction from the extreme nuts. They don't understand the concept of privacy for one means privacy for all.

Hope Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other big boys come out with support and similar methods.
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
bperrella Avatar
51 months ago
Wow that quote from the police is literally a meme. Bbbut think of the children.
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Ca$hflow Avatar
51 months ago
LOL, protect the children. How lame to use children as a way to thwart personal privacy. You can save a million percent more children by NOT giving kids an iPhone at too young of an age.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nt5672 Avatar
51 months ago
Mr. Chuck Cohen did not bother to indicate how many of these 96 phones had information that actually made a difference in the investigation and I know why. This is not about the children, but about making the police's job easier. How about the police getting off their duff and doing some police work instead of just sitting around demanding free access to any phone they want.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iOS 16 mock for article

Gurman: iOS 16 to Include New Ways of System Interaction and 'Fresh Apple Apps'

Sunday May 15, 2022 6:14 am PDT by
iOS 16 will include new ways of interacting with the system and some "fresh Apple apps," Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has said, offering some more detail on what Apple has in store for the upcoming release of iOS and iPadOS set to be announced in a few weeks at WWDC. In the latest edition of his Power On newsletter, Gurman wrote that while iOS 16 is not likely to introduce a major face-lift to...
maxresdefault

Unbox Therapy Shares Hands-On Look at iPhone 14 Pro Max Replica

Monday May 16, 2022 4:40 am PDT by
YouTuber Unbox Therapy has shared a hands-on look at the iPhone 14 Pro Max using what he claims is a one-to-one replica created by third-party case makers with access to detailed schematics and dimensions for Apple's new upcoming flagship smartphone. As with the iPhone 13 Pro lineup, in 2022, we are expecting a 6.1-inch iPhone 14 Pro and a 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Pro Max, but this time the Pro...
RIP iPod Feature

RIP iPod: A Look Back at Apple's Iconic Music Player Over the Years

Friday May 13, 2022 2:25 pm PDT by
Apple earlier this week announced the discontinuation of the iPod touch, and because it was the last iPod still available for purchase, its sunsetting effectively marks the end of the entire iPod lineup. To send the iPod on its way, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the most notable iPod releases over the last 21 years. Original iPod (2001) Introduced in October...
macOS Monterey 2

Apple Releases macOS Monterey 12.4 With Support for Studio Display Webcam Update

Monday May 16, 2022 10:10 am PDT by
Apple today released macOS Monterey 12.4, the fourth major update to the macOS Monterey operating system that launched in October 2021. macOS Monterey 12.4 comes over two months after the launch of macOS Monterey 12.3, an update that added Universal Control. The ‌‌‌‌‌macOS Monterey‌‌ 12.4 update can be downloaded on all eligible Macs using the Software Update section of System...
iOS 15

Apple Releases iOS 15.5 and iPadOS 15.5 With Wallet and Podcast Updates

Monday May 16, 2022 10:00 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 15.5 and iPadOS 15.5, the fifth major updates to the iOS and iPadOS 15 operating systems that were initially released in September 2021. iOS and iPadOS 15.5 come a little over two months after the launch of iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4. The iOS 15.5 and iPadOS 15.5 updates can be downloaded for free and the software is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in...
airpodsprodesign

Kuo: AirPods, MagSafe Battery Pack, and Other Apple Accessories Also to Switch to USB-C in Future

Sunday May 15, 2022 5:59 am PDT by
Earlier this week, well-known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that Apple plans to release at least one iPhone 15 model with a USB-C port in 2023. Now, in a follow-up tweet, he has claimed that accessories like AirPods, the MagSafe Battery Pack, and the Magic Keyboard/Mouse/Trackpad trio would also switch to USB-C in the "foreseeable future." Both the iPhone and all of the aforementioned...
apple tv 4k design green

Apple Releases tvOS 15.5 for Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K

Monday May 16, 2022 9:57 am PDT by
Apple today released tvOS 15.5, the fifth major update to the tvOS operating system that first launched in September 2021. tvOS 15.5 comes more than two months after the release of tvOS 15.4, an update that brought support for captive WiFi networks. tvOS 15.5 can be downloaded over the air on the Apple TV through the Settings app by going to System > Software Update. ‌‌‌‌‌‌Apple...