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Apple to undercut widely used police tool for cracking iPhones

ReutersSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) — Apple Inc. said Wednesday it will change its iPhone settings to undercut the most popular means for law enforcement to break into the devices.

The company told Reuters it was aiming to protect all customers, especially in countries where phones are readily obtained by police or by criminals with extensive resources, and to head off further spread of the attack technique.

The privacy standard-bearer of the tech industry said it will change default settings in the iPhone operating system to cut off communication through the USB port when the phone has not been unlocked in the past hour.

That port is how machines made by forensic companies GrayShift, Cellebrite and others connect and get around the security provisions that limit how many password guesses can be made before the device freezes them out or erases data. Now they will be unable to run code on the devices after the hour is up.

These companies have marketed their machines to law enforcement in multiple countries this year, offering the machines themselves for thousands of dollars but also per-phone pricing as low as $50.

Apple representatives said the change in settings will protect customers in countries where law enforcement seizes and tries to crack phones with fewer legal restrictions than under U.S. law. They also noted that criminals, spies and unscrupulous people often use the same techniques. Even some of the methods most prized by intelligence agencies have been leaked on the internet.

“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,” Apple said in a prepared statement. “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”

Apple began working on the USB issue before learning it was a favorite of law enforcement.

The setting switch had been documented in beta versions of iOS 11.4.1 and iOS12, and Apple told Reuters it will be made permanent in a forthcoming general release.

Apple said that after it learned of the techniques, it reviewed the iPhone operating system code and improved security. It decided to simply alter the setting, a cruder way of preventing most of the potential access by unfriendly parties.Speech

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