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Unprecedented Security Update Heralds New iPhone Feature

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September 14 update below. This post was first published on September 13, 2021.

Make Forbes your destination for all-things iOS. Stay ahead of the curve with Anthony Karcz when each version hits public beta. Read full details of what’s in the release from me the moment it lands. And then read Gordon Kelly’s analysis of whether you ought to install or wait.

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It’s just hours before Apple announces its latest iPhones, at 10AM Eastern on Tuesday, September 14. And it’s only a matter of days until the next big software update, iOS 15, goes on general release. Here’s when it’s likely to land. But now, Apple has surprised many by launching iOS 14.8 which shows a clear path for updates ahead. There wasn’t even a beta for this release, which is unprecedented in itself. And a .8 release is also without precedent.

It heralds a new feature that is very much worth having and Apple recommends users update to it. Here’s how to get it, what’s in it and whether you should wait for iOS 15 instead.

September 14 update. There’s no doubt this is an important iOS update, which is why Apple is so keen for users to install it. After all, a zero-click exploit means what it says, that the user doesn’t need to click or touch anything for the malware to get on to their device.

Since the update went live, ethical hacker Citizen Lab has published a new report called NSO Group iMessage Zero-Click Exploit Captured in the Wild. In it, it makes clear that the assumption which many have made that the update patches the Pegasus software was correct.

The report says, “While analyzing the phone of a Saudi activist infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, we discovered a zero-day zero-click exploit against iMessage. The exploit, which we call FORCEDENTRY, targets Apple’s image rendering library, and was effective against Apple iOS, MacOS and WatchOS devices.

“We determined that the mercenary spyware company NSO Group used the vulnerability to remotely exploit and infect the latest Apple devices with the Pegasus spyware…Today, September 13th, Apple is releasing an update that patches CVE-2021-30860. We urge readers to immediately update all Apple devices.”

This kind of fix is what security updates are built for, and such a fix is important not just to those whose iPhones were infected by Pegasus—a small group—but the rest of us as well.

How to get it

This update is for compatible iPhones, with iPadOS 14.7 which is simultaneously released for compatible iPads. Compatibility for the phones goes back to the iPhone 6s, including iPhone SE (both the first and current editions), plus the seventh-generation iPod touch. For iPads, if you have any iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 or more recent, iPad mini 4 or newer and iPad from fifth generation onwards then you’re good to go.

Updating is easy as pie. Simply go to the Settings app on the iPhone (or iPad) and choose General, then Software Update. Then it’s Download and finally, Install and you’re golden. This is a small update, and won’t take long to install.

What’s in the update?

Like iOS 14.7.1, this is a small update. Apple has said it wants to offer users a choice. Supposing you don’t want to switch to iOS 15 just yet. I wouldn’t blame you. Although the betas of iOS 15 have been pretty solid, not everybody wants to get new features at the expense of stability and the familiarity of what you know.

So, recently, Apple made clear it had a new path in mind, saying, “iOS now offers a choice between two software update versions in the Settings app. You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it’s released for the latest features and most complete set of security updates. Or continue on iOS 14 and still get important security updates until you’re ready to upgrade to the next major version.”

This is very big news. And it means that we can now expect to see two kinds of updates: iOS 14 updates like this which are security updates only, and iOS 15 updates which will add features as well as offer security benefits.

Apple says this update is purely about security, stating in a support document that it’s here to fix CoreGraphics and WebKit issues, both of which could lead to arbitrary code execution.

In the case of the WebKit issue, there’s evidence that it’s important to update now. Apple says: “Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.”

It’s also, and I’m sure of this, the very last update before iOS 15 launches next week.

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Previous iOS 14 updates

iOS 14.7.1

This update came out on July 26 and was all about fixing the thing that iOS 14.7 broke. If you have an Apple Watch, you’ll know that unlocking your iPhone means the Watch on your wrist automatically unlocks, too, so you don’t have to put your passcode in manually. This stopped for some users with iOS 14.7 and this update was aimed at fixing it.

iOS 14.7

This update landed on July 19, 2021 and there was plenty in it. There are some neat extras here, along with important bug fixes. There was support for the new MagSafe battery pack and the capability to control timers on the HomePod from within the Home app. Apple Card: there was also the option of combining credit limits and sharing one co-owned account with an existing Apple Card user.

Air Quality in the Weather app came to more countries, including France, Italy, Spain, Canada and the Netherlands. There were updates to the Podcasts Library and a fix for issues with Dolby Atmos and Apple Music lossless playback.

iOS 14.6

Released on May 24, 2021, this update introduced Apple Card family sharing and Apple Music Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio, though both had the framework, the features did not go live straight away. Instead, they were introduced on Monday, June 7. Podcasts Subscription Support was also added in this update. There were improvements to the Find My app, allowing you to put your email as contact info for someone who found an AirTag to contact you. And with this update you could unlock your iPhone after a restart just with your voice. Security issues that were addressed focused on vulnerabilities in iOS. These included malicious audio files, problems in WebKit, and a bug that affected Apple’s recent Unlock iPhone with Apple Watch feature. 

iOS 14.5.1

This was a small, bug-fix update, which was released on Monday, May 3. That fix was for App Tracking Transparency. Some users who had disabled the setting Allow Apps to Request to Track and then re-enabled it found that they weren’t getting the prompts they were expecting, where each app would individually ask permission to track. That, according to Apple is what’s been addressed in this update.

Oh, and a bunch of what Apple describes as important security updates.

iOS 14.5

iOS 14.5 was released on Monday, April 26 with a slew of new features. These include the capability to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch If you’re wearing a mask, more than 200 new emoji and App Tracking Transparency This means that when you launch an app that collects your activity data or tracks you, you can turn off that option. There’s a benefit for iPhone 11 series models to recalibrate battery health reporting and dual sim 5G was introduced. There was the ability to choose your music service, new voices for Siri , a fresh look for Podcasts and the ability to use PS5 and Xbox Series X controllers for gaming on your iPad and iPhone.

These were just the big changes. There was also the AirPlay 2 support for Apple Fitness+, Siri calling emergency services for you and an updated Reminders app with more features. Plus, bug fixes aplenty.

iOS 14.4.2

Back on Friday, March 26, Apple released another WebKit fix to ensure that nobody can insert malicious code that would compromise your iPhone use.

iOS 14.4.1

Out on March 8, this was an update focused on one function, to fix a vulnerability in WebKit.

iOS 14.4

Lots of angles to this, released on January 26, 2021. HomePod mini handoff was enhanced, the Set Wallpaper shortcut let you add the image to perspective zoom and there were changes to Accessibility settings. The camera can now handle smaller QR codes, too. You can also now classify Bluetooth audio devices. So, you can say whether they’re speakers, car stereos, headphones or hearing aids. There were also plenty of bug fixes.

iOS 14.3

Released December 14, 2020, 14.3 was a big release with plenty of new elements, such as support for the company’s latest hardware – AirPods Max – and the introduction of Fitness+. To use it, you need to have a compatible Apple Watch.

Photographers welcomed Apple ProRAW, which allows photos to be captured on the latest Pro versions of iPhone 12 in the new ProRAW format

Enhanced ECG capabilities for Apple Watch also arrived, in tandem with the latest watchOS update.

Privacy “nutrition labels” went live today in the App Store. Apps, including those from Apple, must display information indicating exactly what data is used to track you or to link to you. If you want to use the Ecosia search engine, that’s now an option.

iOS 14.2.1

This update landed on November 19, 2020 and was all about fixing issues. Messages had problems in group message threads, which this update sorted. An unresponsive lock screen and problems with Made for iPhone hearing devices were fixed in this update. This update was only for iPhone 12 models.

iOS 14.2

Released on November 5, 2020, this update brought over 100 brilliant new emoji, new wallpapers with light and dark mode versions, support for the upcoming iPhone 12 leather sleeve, and an improvement to HomePod and the upcoming HomePod mini’s new Intercom feature.

The original HomePod gained connectivity to the Apple TV 4K for stereo surround sound and Dolby Atmos audio.

The Magnifier app gained People Detection, using the LiDAR sensor included in iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max to reveal how far away people are. This is a real benefit for people with limited vision and is especially useful at a time when social distancing is important.

And now, AirPods battery charging is optimized for the first time, and there was a timely option to give statistics about Exposure Notifications, without identification, to Public Health Authorities. Plus, lots of bug-squishing.

iOS 14.1

This was released on October 20, 2020 and, like the next iOS update this one included stuff for the HomePod.

Other benefits are focused on fixes and bug squishes. For instance, it means there’s now support for 10-bit HDR video playback, applying to Photos for iPhone 8 and later. Issues with reduced-size icons, folders and widgets were addressed, along with other Home screen problems such as apps disappearing from folders when widgets were dragged was fixed. Mail issues, such as messages sent from an incorrect alias have been sorted. Incoming calls regional info that wasn’t working is now all fixed. Other issues included a screen redraw problem with an emergency call overlap, songs that wouldn’t download and a Calculator app issue were sorted

There were a couple of Apple Watch problems such as the iPhone not identifying the case material on your timepiece have been addressed.

iOS 14.0.1

Released on September 24, this update fixed an issue where the default browser and mail settings reset after restarting your iPhone, sorted an issue that prevented camera previews from displaying on, specifically, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus and a problem where the iPhone wouldn’t connect to wi-fi.

A problem sending emails with certain providers and images not appearing in the News widget, were also addressed.

iOS 14

The first version of iOS 14 was released on September 16, 2020.

The Home Screen added Widgets – smart app icons with changing information – on the home screen, revealed an App Gallery to help sort where your apps sit and added Compact Designs. These mean that Siri just sits at the bottom of the screen instead of taking it over completely while calls coming in will be announced just at the top of the screen.

App Clips are something completely new. If you need something an app delivers but really don’t have time to download the whole app, register, set up an account, verify your credentials and so on, then App Clips can help. They’ll work well with something like a parking app, say, when you’re next to the meter and short on time. Instead, you’ll scan the QR code, or tap the NFC tag, on the meter. App Clips downloads just the bit of the app you need and since you log in through Apple, all those things like payment details are sorted, too. This could be amazing as more apps come on stream.

The Messages app is now more capable, so you can now pin conversations you want to find easily at the top of the list, new Memoji options and better layouts for replies.

Maps has been improved, as on the Apple Watch, by the addition of cycle routes, routing for electric vehicles, edited guides to find new restaurants and more.

Translate is designed to make it easy to translate conversations in real time across 11 modes. You can even do this offline, which should save data costs when you’re traveling.

The Weather app can show you how much it’s going to rain in the next hour as well as advising on severe weather events.

New Accessibility features include Back Tap which lets you configure shortcuts when you tap on the back of the iPhone in a particular way.

AirPods Pro get in on the action, too, thanks to extra features which appear on the earbuds when your iPhone has moved to iOS 14. These include Spatial Audio so you can have a surround-sound effect as you watch a movie, say, and seamless device switching. More details here.

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