New iPhone Feature That Disables Police Unlockers in Development

Technology > IT

IPhone's home screen and its apps. / Photo by: Maxpixel


While Apple touted many features of its up-and-coming iOS 12 during the 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference such as FaceTime, Animoji, and a ruler app, it was silent on what the said operating system’s killer feature would be. Called the USB Restricted Mode, the feature has been the subject of unconfirmed rumors but has been included in some of the iOS beta releases since iOS 11.3, according to Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, writing for Motherboard.

The feature forces iPhone users to unlock their phones with the passcode when connected to a USB device everytime the phone has not been unlocked for an hour. The USB accessories include iPhone unlocking devices made by companies such as Cellebrite or GrayShift, which are used by police authorities all over the world to gain access to seized iPhones.  

Ryan Duff, director of Cyber Solutions at Point3 Security, said the feature would render useless the products made by the two companies if the feature does what it says and does not let any type of data connection happen until the phone is unlocked. 

The feature was already incorporated in the last two iOS beta releases, 11.4.1 beta, and 12 beta. It is also included in Touch ID, Face ID, and Passcode settings. The one-hour time limit is an important deviation from previous tests where the time limit was one week. The change came after GrayShift advised customers to make sure that they unlock their iPhones after obtaining it. Such compliance may be easily accomplished with a one-week limit but almost impossible with the one-hour limit. 

If the iPhone is not unlocked within the one-hour limit, the Lightning Connector port will be disabled and cannot be used for synchronizing or connecting to accessories. It merely becomes a charging point, Duff claimed.