iOS 11’s New Safety Features

Panic button, imaging protection, & more-selective location privacy choices

Tilde Lowengrimm
4 min readSep 18, 2017

iOS 11 comes out tomorrow, September 19. You’ve been able to opt in to test out pre-release versions of iOS 11 for a few months now, but some time tomorrow or Wednesday you should start to see update notifications on your phone. You should always install software security updates straight away. As soon as an update comes out, people try to reverse engineer the bugs it fixes. The longer you wait, the more time there is to find those bugs and use them against you.

iOS 11 comes with two really valuable new security & safety features which I’m really looking forward to. For me, either one of these would be reason enough to install the update straight away, even without the safety benefits of running up-to-date software.

Panic Button

The iOS 11 feature I’m most excited about seems is officially called Emergency SOS, though it took only moments for folks to start calling it “cop mode”. The feature, first widely shared by @alt_kia on Twitter, allows you to quickly disable TouchID by quickly tapping the power button five times in a row. You’ll need to manually enter your unlock code before you can log back in. Check out the screenshots attached to the tweet for a clear picture of how the feature will feel in use. (Update: as of Sept 19, @alt-kia has protected her Twitter account, so you’ll just have to install the update.)

In a follow-up tweet, @alt_kia added info about a similar technique for the newer iPhones. For the iPhone X with FaceID instead, Apple added an alternative way to disable biometric unlock — firmly squeeze the sides of the phone.

Imaging Protection

In iOS 10, when you plug your iPhone into a computer you haven’t used before, you’re prompted to chose whether you trust this computer. That’s a great feature: you don’t want to plug your phone into what seems to be a charger and let it sneakily slurp up all your phone’s data. But if the phone’s already unlocked (maybe you weren’t fast enough at hitting the power button five times) whoever has your phone in their hand can accept this request and let a computer copy almost all the data off the phone. This is how most police forensics tools work — they use the phone’s built-in backup features.

In iOS 11, siphoning all the data off your phone gets that much harder harder for someone who simply manages to swipe your phone unlocked. You now need to type your phone’s unlock code into the new computer, not just accept a prompt on the phone’s screen. That means that someone who wants to make a copy of your phone needs to know your unlock code; they can’t rely on TouchID or FaceID to unlock the device.

If a cop snatches your phone or it’s seized at a checkpoint, they’re limited to looking through the phone itself by hand. There’s no way to sneakily make a full copy which they can scan and search automatically later unless you tell them your unlock code. In the US, at least, you have a lot more rights when it comes to a code you keep in your head compared to observable biometric facts about you like fingerprints or how your face looks. Of course, it’s better to turn off TouchID/FaceID and rely on your unlock code when you’re headed to a risky situation like a protest or a border crossing. But security features should prepare for the worst, not the best, and this new protection is definitely another strong line of defense for all the sensitive info on your phone.

Location Privacy

iOS 11 also includes a small but meaningful tweak to location privacy settings. Up to now, iOS has had three options for how an app can access your location: always, while using, or never. But, if an app asks to access your location always, your only options are to agree, or prohibit it from accessing your location. If you’re using — say — a taxi app, you might want it to know your location when it’s open, but not want it tracking you the rest of the time.

In iOS 11, you can pick any of the three options for any app. So that taxi app can give you quick pick-up options when you open it, but doesn’t get to track you the rest of the time. This might seem like a small tweak, but it makes a huge difference when it comes to deciding which service providers you trust with a complete history of everywhere you go.

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs…

And if those new safety features weren’t enough to tempt you, iOS 11 fixes a whole pile of security bugs.