The annual iOS refresh is on the way—Apple has previewed it, beta testers have installed it, and the rest of us should get iOS 12 when iPhones arrive in September. While features such as winking 3-D emoji and screen-time limits for your apps might take much of the attention when the software arrives, iOS 12 is a major step forward in one other crucial area: smartphone security.
It’s something Apple has always prided itself on, with its tightly locked App Store and full device encryption, but iOS 12 is going to make your iPhone more secure than ever before. Here’s how.
Many of you have probably set up two-factor authentication on your most important accounts, and if you haven’t you really should. It means you need something else beyond a username and password—typically a code from your phone—to log into your account on a new device.
That makes life harder for a hacker who has somehow obtained your login credentials, but it also makes life a little more inconvenient for you if you do a lot of logging in across a lot of devices. iOS 12 eases that pain with a new feature called Security code AutoFill.
When a 2FA code comes into your iPhone via SMS, in iOS 12 it will automatically pass over to the app that’s requesting it onscreen, so there’s no need to switch between apps or copy numbers over. Ultimately, it makes 2FA easier to adopt, and every little bit helps.
Less Ad Tracking
Safari on iOS already blocks third-party cookies, which can recognize you across multiple websites, as well as first-party cookies—those specific to one site—that are older than 30 days. Unless you’re regularly logging into a site, it doesn’t know much about you.
In iOS 12, Safari will go even further: By default, it will block comment boxes and social media sharing icons that can identify you even when you’re not interacting with them.
As it stands now, a Facebook Share button on a page outside of Facebook can spot who you are, and it can link the page to your Facebook account, even if you don’t actually share anything. As long as you’re logged into Facebook in your browser, the code embedded in the Share button registers your arrival.
Not for much longer though, as far as Safari on iOS is concerned: When the browser detects this kind of tracking, it’ll give you the option to allow or block it.
In addition, Apple will take a stand against “fingerprinting” in Safari on iOS, the practice by which ad trackers can recognize you from the unique fingerprint of your device; the hardware data fed through the browser, the browser configuration, and so on. Even if a tracking code doesn’t know exactly who you are, it can spot your device and start to build up a picture of your browsing patterns as your device visits multiple sites. iOS 12 will restrict this, too, in Safari.
Apple’s anti-tracking tech will come to Safari for macOS in the upcoming Mojave release as well.
Better, stronger password management will come to Safari in iOS 12 as well. The browser and its integrated password storage system can already keep your login credentials safe, and it already suggests passwords made of up random characters if you need a new one.
In iOS 12, Apple says Safari will start suggesting stronger passwords, though it’s not immediately clear what that means. Another new feature coming down the line is an alert that displays when two or more of the logins you’ve saved in Safari use the same password—bad security hygiene for a number of reasons—and prompt you to change one of them to something else. Thanks to iCloud, all these passwords and logins will sync across Apple devices.
Encrypted Group Video Chat
Encryption is everywhere in iOS, from the text chats you send through iMessage to the location data logged by apps. Without the passcode or fingerprint or face you’ve assigned to your iPhone—which act as the decryption keys—the data can’t be read.
It also means that iMessage and FaceTime chats heading from and arriving to your iPhone can’t be spied on. That’s peace of mind if you spend a lot of time connected to public Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop. Not even Apple can look at your FaceTime calls, even if it wanted to.
FaceTime will get a long-awaited group video calling feature with iOS 12, so you can hold video calls with up to 31 other people at once. Like the existing one-to-one calls, full end-to-end encryption will be applied.
Instant 911 Location Sharing
Since it first previewed iOS 12, Apple has announced a partnership with RapidSOS, a startup working to upgrade many of the roughly 6,500 emergency call centers across the US. As a result, when you call 911, your iPhone will securely and automatically share your exact location with the call center operator.
On many 911 calls, seconds can make the difference between life and death. Being able to transmit a phone’s location without any effort from a panicky, flustered caller could prove vital, especially if someone is ringing while away from home in an unfamiliar area. Apple had previously developed a location technology called HELO, which pinpoints where you are more effectively than cell-tower data can. The RapidSOS partnership will ensure that HELO data gets into the hands of operators, regardless of what software their call center runs.
Stronger Hacking Protections
When someone wants to hack into your iPhone without your permission—whether it’s a criminal saboteur or a law enforcement agent—they often do so via some kind of brute-force approach, making multiple attempts at entry in quick succession.
With iOS 12, Apple is drastically narrowing the window of time in which that can be effective. If an iPhone isn’t unlocked for an hour, it will switch the Lightning port to a charging only state, neutralizing attempts to pull data from it.
The previous time limit was seven days, so an iPhone running iOS 12 will block access much more quickly—most likely before anyone has even tried to start cracking the stolen or seized handset.
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