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 to upgrade their Apple device. From better cameras and longer battery life and faster chips, there are plenty of features consumers will consider when buying a new iPhone.
One new safety feature that has been getting a lot of attention is emergency satellite communication. Cybersecurity may not be among the top selling points, but the new iPhone and iOS16 do have some significant security upgrades, too.
The focus on security is nothing new from Apple, which has made user privacy one of its key messages for years, regularly adding new security features within iOS updates and on new phone models, like Face ID facial recognition, app tracking prevention and private browsing.
Improved low-light photo abilities and the extended battery life may have appeal 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-ever eSIM-only phones, the iPhone 14 offers a range of new technologies to further protect your privacy, including the brand new Lockdown Mode.
Lockdown: Apple’s most extreme security mode
All models of the iPhone 14 come preinstalled with iOS 16, which features a new form of protection called Lockdown Mode. This tool enables an extreme level of protection that prevents malware from accessing your phone, blocking most message attachment types, FaceTime calls, and more. While in Lockdown Mode, phone calls, plain text messages and emergency features 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 meant for a small section of users who might be targeted by a nation-state threat actor,” said Kathleen Moriarty, chief technology officer at the Center for Internet Security. “That being said, it could be a CEO for a company … [an] official in the government, and that ability to lockdown the device and prevent execution or access to data on your phone could 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 bugs live in code that is rarely executed, said Justin Cappos, associate professor of Computer Science and Engineering at New York University Tandon School of Engineering and a member of New York University’s Center for Cybersecurity. Lockdown Mode does remove that risk, while making the phone experience “a little more inconvenient” for most users.
After testing out Lockdown Mode, Cappos said the only visual changes he noticed were fonts appearing differently and the icons for health apps not displaying correctly. And due to a very similar user experience and additional security benefits, he plans to use Lockdown Mode as his default and only exempt apps if necessary.
Android phones have offered a function called “Lockdown” since 2018, when the feature became available on Android 9. Designed to block all biometric security and voice recognition, it operates a bit differently than the Apple feature.
Fingerprint, facial and voice identification disable on the Android in Lockdown to prevent someone from accessing your phone. However, once an Android is unlocked via password, pin or pattern, Lockdown is turned off. While the iPhone keeps your device in Lockdown Mode at all times, the Android only ensures this security if users re-enable the feature every time they unlock their device.
Despite the similar names, Android’s Lockdown is more focused on preventing physical hijacking of a phone. Apple’s approach emphasizes protecting a device against digital threats. Both modes are, in most cases, not meant for daily use by the general public, but features that can help individuals in higher-risk situations.
The switch to eSIM-only phones
Steve Jobs never wanted the original iPhone to have a SIM card tray, and the iPhone 14 models are finally achieving 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 only eSIM for the U.S. market. All iPhone 14 models purchased in the U.S. are eSIM-only, which enables users to easily connect and transfer their plans digitally.
“It stops someone from physically swapping your SIM card out if you leave your phone unattended. This has been used to steal accounts for high-profile individuals like Jack Dorsey, former CEO of Twitter, and also to steal millions in cryptocurrency,” Cappos said.
Although the physical form of identity theft decreases, there are still security risks to consider before switching to the eSIM-only iPhone 14.
“Carriers cite security concerns such as an attacker taking over your phone number due to there not being a physical SIM card required for a carrier change, just the eSIM already on the phone and an SMS code,” Moriarty said. “At the same time, carriers are also concerned because the eSIM allows for an easier transition between carriers for the end user, which could hurt user retention.”
The Android 9 was the first version of the phone to implement the use of eSIM. The company has shown a growing effort to offer both SIM cards and eSIM on its newer phones, but no Android is eSIM-only.
In efforts to expand upon the iPhone’s safety features, the new lineup offers Emergency SOS via satellite which allows users to directly connect to a satellite and contact emergency services when outside of cellular or Wi-Fi coverage. When Emergency SOS is activated, the phone will prompt questions to assess the user’s situation and direct them where to point their phone in order 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 related to this new feature.
“It certainly makes situations where somebody’s stranded or in dire need a lot safer for that person. But, of course, having additional ways to communicate provides opportunities for surveillance 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 step in. Your location will also be shared with Apple and its partners when using this feature.
“It makes you have to trust Apple a little more, but it could also potentially save your life in certain situations,” Cappos said.
Emergency SOS via satellite is launching on iPhone 14 models this month with an iOS 16 software update. However, this feature will only be available in the U.S., including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with Canada. Users will be able to utilize this feature for free for two years from the start of their plan. After that, it could become a paid additional 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.