Apple talks up the new security feature of the latest update, saying: "Starting with iOS 11.4.1, if you use USB accessories with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, or if you connect your device to a Mac or PC, you might need to unlock your device for it to recognize and use the accessory".
What ElcomSoft describes isn't a vulnerability per se, it's just a relatively-straightforward workaround for how the feature works. The feature is created to lock an iPhone's or iPad's Lightning port after one hour of device inactivity, preventing the port from being used for anything except basic charging until a password is entered again.
We performed several tests, and can now confirm that USB Restricted Mode is maintained through reboots, and persists software restores via Recovery mode.
Elcomsoft engineer Oleg Afonin noted that testing showed that once USB Restricted Mode kicks in, there is no obvious way to break it.
The accompanying explanation gives no indication of its real objective: "Unlock iPhone to allow USB accessories to connect when it has been more than hour since your iPhone was locked", it says underneath a sliding bar. It also doesn't work if USB Restricted Mode has already been triggered (past the one-hour mark).
According to researchers at ElcomSoft, if a USB accessory is plugged into the phone before the one-hour time limit has elapsed, it will reset the counter. This countdown can be reset by simply plugging in Apple's Lightning to USB 3.0 adaptor. It operates like this: if an iPhone or iPad is not unlocked after one hour, data access through the Lightning port will shut down. All iOS 11.4, 11.4.1 and iOS 12 users are recommended to downgrade to 11.4 beta 3 for jailbreak! However, this doesn't mean that the USB connectivity with an Apple device is entirely safe. Additionally, if the Lightning accessory doesn't include a pass-through power port, there's no way to keep the device fueled during transport.
Over the past year or so, we've seen more companies develop ways to unlock locked iPhones for law enforcement, and chances are we would've seen more in the future unless Apple took steps to address this issue.
At first we thought we would have to wait until iOS 12 this fall to see this feature, but here it is.
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