Apple’s iOS 12 packs a lot of helpful tools to use your iPhone more efficiency — and in the case of Screen Time, more mindfully.
But the latest mobile update also contains a quiet feature called USB Restricted Mode that can prevent third-parties from accessing data on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.
Here’s how it works.
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What is iOS 12 USB Restricted Mode?
Basically, USB Restricted Mode locks down the Lightning port. It bars USB-based accessories from accessing your data if your iOS device has been locked for one hour.
It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course. But the important impact to consumers is that their data is going to be a lot more secure.
A similar feature debuted in iOS 11.4, but it was a bit more lax. It cut USB access for an iOS device after a seven-day period of remaining locked.
The new iOS 12 update cuts that window down to one hour. That means your data is going to be a lot more secure. And by most accounts, the clock starts ticking as soon as the device locked.
Why Would You Want It?
Apple cares about its users’ private data, and this tool shows that. The Cupertino tech giant is protecting any Apple user from third-parties who have access to malicious hacking tools.
Earlier this year, word spread of a device called a GrayKey that can unlock any iPhone. An iPhone with a six-digit passcode could be bypassed in about an hour.
At this time, only government and law enforcement agencies have access to that device. But it’s completely possible for a GrayKey — or the code it uses — to fall into the wrong hands.
Now, anyone with access to a GrayKey only has a one-hour window to get it cracked before iOS 12 locks down access via the Lightning port.
Since even a 4-digit passcode can take hours to bypass, USB Restricted Mode might effectively render this certain set of hacking tools and forensic techniques useless.
There are, of course, other methods to bypass the encryption on iOS devices. A firm called Cellebrite markets its ability to unlock iPhones. And the FBI bypassed an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters with a currently unknown method.
Presumably, USB Restricted Mode will help cut down the resources for entities wanting to break into your phone.
Of course, with the added security comes a slight downside: convenience.
For example, you won’t be able to access your iPhone via Lightning port if you have connected to a computer with iTunes.
Of course, that’s only the case if your device is left locked for an hour. And to fix it, you’d simply need to authenticate with Touch ID, Face ID, or type in your passcode.
Users could run into similar problems with USB accessories, like CarPlay hubs, charging accessories, storage devices, and assistive devices.
Like with iTunes access, you’d simply need to authenticate if you leave the device along for an hour.
How to Enable USB Restricted Mode on iPhone
To enable or disable the USB Restricted Mode, you’ll need to dive into the Settings app.
Open your Settings app, tap on Face ID & Passcode or Touch ID & Passcode, and scroll down until you see USB Accessories. You’ll have a couple options here — and it’s a bit confusing.
- If the feature is toggled on, it means that USB accessories (and hacking tools) can access your iPhone, even if it’s been locked for more than an hour.
- If the feature is toggled off, USB Restricted Mode comes into play. iOS 12 will cut off USB access after one hour.
It’s worth noting that USB accessories will always be able to access your device if it is unlocked.
Of course, if you require an assistive device for your day-to-day iPhone use, you may want to consider leaving the feature disabled.
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.