By Jim Alcott, Data Recovery/Forensic Engineer
On Monday at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple unveiled details of their upcoming iOS 12 operating system for iPhone and iPad smart devices, including one particular feature intended to improve personal data privacy and security.
What is USB Restricted Mode?
Currently, the USB lightning port can be used to not only charge an iPhone or iPad, but also access the data on that phone. This is the feature that allows you to back up your iPhone or upload photos from your iPad to your computer.
A form of the new “USB Restricted Mode” first appeared in a beta version of iOS 11.3 and then again in the beta version of iOS 11.4. With this feature turned on, any type of communication with an iOS device via connection to the lightning port was disabled if the iPhone had not been used or logged into for 7 days or longer.
So far, this feature has not made it past beta testing.
The news from Monday is that Apple is choosing to dramatically reduce the time between logins from 7 days to only one hour.
How does this feature improve data privacy? Currently, there are tools available that use the lightning port to access iPhones against the will of the smartphone’s owner. This type of hack is generally used by law enforcement to gain access to digital evidence, but may also be used by criminals who have the right tools and choose to use them for data theft and other illegal or harmful activities.
Hacking into an iOS device via the lightning port requires special hardware that costs tens of thousands of dollars and typically is not an item carried around on someone’s person. The shortened period of time before USB Restricted Mode goes into effect prevents the opportunity to take a confiscated or stolen iPhone to that hardware, thereby preventing this type of unauthorized access to the smartphone or tablet.
There is some ambiguity as to whether this feature may affect charging capabilities. Apple has stated that “Apple USB power adaptors” will still work to charge iPhones and iPads that are in USB restricted mode, but it is unclear whether charging will still work when using off-brand charge cords, battery backup blocks or computers.
Will USB Restricted Mode Affect Data Recovery?
If USB Restricted Mode makes it through beta testing and into the hands of consumers, it will not have any impact on current data recovery capabilities for iOS devices at DriveSavers.
As long as the customer is able to provide a passcode for the smartphone or tablet, the new privacy protocol will not affect our ability to bypass physical damage caused by water (fresh, salt or toilet), power surge, fire, drop or any other physical damage that may be caused to an iPhone or iPad.
If an iPhone or iPad is damaged in any way by any means, DriveSavers will still be able to perform data recovery, USB Restricted Mode or not.
Why Wouldn’t You Use USB Restricted Mode?
Most people will probably want to use the new USB Restricted Mode, which will be enabled on their iPhones and iPads by default. This technology does help protect data privacy, which DriveSavers strongly advocates. Still, there are some instances in which you may want to consider foregoing the additional security:
- You use non-Apple charging cords to charge your iPhone or iPad
- You travel a lot and depend on portable iPhone chargers to keep your smartphone charged and stay in business
- You have kids with iPhones that you want to maintain access to (although, you really should know your kids’ passcodes and, if you do, this won’t be an issue)
How to Disable USB Restricted Mode
If, when you update to iOS 12, you have decided that you don’t need or want Apple’s additional data privacy security, here’s how you can turn it off:
- Go to “Settings” on your iPhone or iPad
- Go to “Face ID / Touch ID & Passcode”
- Go to “Allow Access When Locked”
- Go to “USB Accessories” and switch the toggle to “ON”
Keep in mind, however, that Apple has added this extra measure of data security for good reason and you may want to take advantage of the technology.
Other Features of iOS 12
Apple is planning for the new iOS 12 to be jam-packed with far more new features than just the USB Restricted Mode. In their own words, “iOS 12 is designed to make your iPhone and iPad experience even faster, more responsive and more delightful.”