iOS device
Apple’s iOS 11.4.1 activates USB Restricted Mode. Reuters/David Gray

Apple has launched a new safety feature for its iOS-powered devices through the latest software update, iOS 11.4.1. Called USB Restricted Mode, the feature is designed to make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to gain access to iPhone and iPad devices.

AppleInsider reported Monday that the Cupertino giant has quietly turned on USB Restricted Mode in iOS 11.4.1. It’s not indicated in the changelog, but users are already seeing the new feature. It is found in the new “USB” Accessories” toggle just under the “Face ID/Touch ID & Passcode” menu. It is off by default so that physical data connections won’t be allowed if the device has been locked for an hour or longer.

“At Apple, we put the customer at the center of everything we design. We’re constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves and intrusions into their personal data. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs,” Apple said of the feature.

IBTimes learned in May that Apple was bringing the option to disable the data connection capabilities of the Lightning port with USB Restricted Mode, which was expected to come with iOS 12. However, Apple changed its plan this week by enabling the feature with the release of iOS 11.4.1. The new mode disables data connection, yet it still allows users to refuel their batteries through wired connections. Stored data can only be accessed with the use of the device owner’s fingerprint, Face ID or passcode.

Last month, the New York Times revealed that Apple was determined to eliminate the vulnerability that law enforcement agencies hack into when carrying out investigations in cases involving iPhone owners. The news was quickly criticized by the agencies and it also reignited debate on whether or not authorities should have the right to gain access to locked iPhones of suspected criminals.

Meanwhile, iOS 11.4.1 addresses several bugs that were discovered in iOS 11.4 aside from introducing USB Restricted Mode. For instance, it fixes the issue that prevented users from viewing the last known location of their AirPods in Find My iPhone. It also improves synchronization of mail, contacts and notes with Exchange accounts, according to MacRumors.

Apple’s iOS 11.4.1 update is now available for download on all eligible devices over-the-air via the Settings app. To download, simply head to Settings > General > Software Update. The software update is only compatible with the iPhone 5s and later, the iPad Air and later, iPad mini 2 and later and the sixth-generation iPod touch.