As of today, iThings are even harder for police to probe

iOS 10.3 lands, complete with heavily encrypted Apple File System

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Apple today released iOS 10.3, watchOS 3.2 and tvOS 10.2 (14W265), the first two of all of which bring some pleasing extra functionality to iThings, But the main attraction in the new release is Apple File System, because it adds comprehensive encryption to the iPhone and Apple Watch.

Apple's been very shy about the Apple file system (APFS), which it revealed with little fanfare at last year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and doesn't even mention it in the list of features in iOS 10.3.

Modernisation was the company's motivation for creating the file system: at launch it pointed out that the HFS+ file system it used was designed in the age of the floppy disk and therefore wasn't very good at handling flash memory or large file sizes. Writing its own filesystem is therefore expected to improve performance markedly, as file reads and writes should be substantially faster.

Which will be lovely. But APFS' encryption is far more interesting. Characterised by Apple as “strong full-disk encryption” for both files and metadata, with optional “Multi-key encryption with per-file keys for file data and a separate key for sensitive metadata”. That's an improvement on the file-only encryption offered on older versions of iOS.

“Multi-key encryption ensures the integrity of user data,” Apple tells us. “Even if someone were to compromise the physical security of the device and gain access to the device key, they still couldn't decrypt the user's files.”

Now recall, dear readers, the case of the San Bernardino killer's iPhone and the furore around whether or not law enforcement officers should enjoy access to its disks. Note, also, this weekend's call by UK interior minister Amber Rudd , for governments to enjoy access to encrypted communications. And now consider the hundreds of millions of APFS-capable iPhones and iPads in the world, most soon to get encryption that makes their innards unknowable.

Other features in iOS 10.3 include a “Find my AirPods” function, the ability to find a user's parked car and an upgrade for Siri so that she's aware of cricket scores and statistics.

APFS is expected to come to MacOS later in 2017. ®


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