Buy a new iPhone? Here are new features designed for your safety
Customers shop at the Apple Fifth Avenue store for the release of the Apple iPhone 14 in New York City, September 16, 2022.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
It’s Black Friday and the official start of the holiday shopping season, and there’s a new iPhone 14 for consumers in the market looking to upgrade their Apple device. From better cameras and longer battery life to faster chips, there are plenty of features consumers will consider when buying a new iPhone — that is, if you can find one amid what looks like a season short on supply of some of Cupertino’s latest models.
A new safety feature that has received a lot of attention is emergency satellite connectivity. Cybersecurity might not be among the top selling points, but the new iPhone and iOS16 also have some significant security upgrades.
The focus on security is nothing new applewhich has made user privacy one of its most important messages for years, regularly adding new security features in iOS updates and on new phone models, such as Face ID facial recognition, app tracking prevention and private browsing.
Improved low-light photography and extended battery life may appeal more than security upgrades on the new Apple iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max. But from the new satellite connectivity features to Apple’s first eSIM-only phones, iPhone 14 offers a host of new technologies to further protect your privacy, including the brand new Lock Mode.
Lockdown: Apple’s most extreme security mode
All iPhone 14 models come pre-installed with iOS 16, which has a new form of protection called Lockdown Mode. This tool enables an extreme level of protection that prevents malware from accessing your phone, blocks most message attachment types, FaceTime calls and more. While in lock mode, phone calls, plain text messages and emergency functions will continue to work.
You are not expected to use this feature unless you are, or soon plan to become, a CEO or head of state.
“It’s only intended for a small portion of users who could be targeted by a nation-state threat actor,” said Kathleen Moriarty, chief technology officer at the Center for Internet Security. “Having said that, a CEO of a company can be… [an] official in the government, and that ability to lock the device and prevent driving or accessing data on your phone can be critical.”
But the feature may be enticing to a broader base of security-minded individuals.
Research has found that more than 90% of unknown security flaws live in code that is rarely executed, said Justin Cappos, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering and a member of New York University’s Center for Cybersecurity. Lock mode removes that risk, while making the phone experience “a little more inconvenient” for most users.
After testing out Lock Mode, Cappos said the only visual changes he noticed were fonts being displayed differently and health app icons not being displayed correctly. And because of a very similar user experience and added security benefits, he plans to use lock mode by default and only exempt apps if necessary.
Android phones have offered a feature called “Lockdown” since 2018, when the feature became available on Android 9. Designed to block all biometric security and voice recognition, it works a little differently than Apple’s feature.
Fingerprint, face and voice identification are disabled on Android in Lockdown to prevent anyone from accessing your phone. But when an Android is unlocked via password, pin or pattern, Lockdown is turned off. While the iPhone keeps your device locked at all times, Android only provides this security if users re-enable the feature each time they unlock the device.
Despite the similar names, Android’s Lockdown is more focused on preventing the physical hijacking of a phone. Apple’s approach emphasizes protecting a device from digital threats. Both modes are in most cases not intended for daily use by the general public, but functions that can help individuals in higher risk situations.
Switch to eSIM-only phones
Steve Jobs never wanted the original iPhone to have a SIM card tray, and the iPhone 14 models finally achieve this goal. Apple introduced eSIM cards back in 2018, but the new phone series is the first of its kind to eliminate the SIM card tray entirely and use eSIM only for the US market. All iPhone 14 models purchased in the US are eSIM only, enabling users to easily connect and transfer their subscriptions digitally.
“It prevents someone from physically swapping out your SIM card if you leave your phone unattended. This has been used to steal the accounts of high-profile people such as Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter, and also to steal millions in cryptocurrency ,” Cappos said.
Although the physical form of identity theft is decreasing, there are still security risks to consider before switching to the eSIM-only iPhone 14.
“Operators cite security issues such as an attacker taking over your phone number because there’s no physical SIM card required to switch carriers, just the eSIM that’s already on the phone and an SMS code,” Moriarty said. “At the same time, carriers are also concerned because eSIM enables an easier transition between carriers for the end user, which could hurt user retention.”
Android 9 was the first version of the phone to implement the use of eSIM. The company has shown an increasing effort to offer both SIM and eSIM on its newer phones, but no Android is eSIM only.
Emergency SOS via satellite
In an effort to expand iPhone’s security features, the new range offers Emergency SOS via satellite which allows users to connect directly to a satellite and contact emergency services when they are out of cellular or Wi-Fi coverage. When Emergency SOS is activated, the phone will ask questions to assess the user’s situation and direct them where to point the phone to connect to a satellite. These questions will be sent to Apple-trained specialists who will then call for help.
There is a potential security issue associated with this new feature.
“It certainly makes situations where someone is stranded or in dire need a lot safer for that person. But of course having multiple ways to communicate allows for monitoring and things like this as well,” Cappos said.
Apple notes that messages are sent in encrypted form, but are then decrypted by Apple so that emergency services can intervene. Your location will also be shared with Apple and its partners when you use this feature.
“It makes you have to trust Apple a little more, but it can also potentially save your life in certain situations,” Cappos said.
Emergency SOS via satellite launches on iPhone 14 models this month with an iOS 16 software update. However, this feature will only be available in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, along with Canada. Users will be able to use this feature for free for two years from the start of the plan. After that, it may become a paid add-on service for iPhone users.
Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s senior vice president of Android and other Google services, recently confirmed via Twitter that the company is working on satellite connectivity for the Android 14 operating system, which will require hardware changes from companies that build Android phones.