An iOS upgrade makes it harder for hackers and other outside parties to access a locked phone via the Lightning port. (Photo: / Michael Desjardin)

You may need to unlock your passcode-protected iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to connect it to a Mac, PC, or a USB accessory, Apple says.

This additional step is part of a security measure that arrives with iOS 11.4.1, an otherwise relatively minor update made available on Monday to the mobile operating system at the core of your Apple device. (This USB restrictive mode is also included in the iOS 12 public beta.)

So long as your USB accessory is connected to the iOS device (through the Lightning port), it will remain operational, even if your phone, tablet or iPod were subsequently locked again. 

The effect is to help protect your iOS device against an iPhone unlocking mechanism used by criminal hackers or other parties — including GrayKey from Grayshift, a tool employed by law enforcement to break into suspects’ locked phones.

More: Apple iPhone change will make it harder for cops to crack locked phones

In February 2016, a federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI break into an iPhone used by one of the killers in the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings, which Apple at the time strongly resisted, and which raised all sorts of privacy flags. The FBI subsequently was able to hack into the phone without Apple’s help, and the Justice Dept. dropped its legal action against the company.

In June, Apple said it would soon close the security gap allowing access to personal data on locked iPhones, shutting down the Lightning port on devices after the phone has been locked for one hour. After that, the port can only be used to charge the device using a power adapter.

Police had been using the security loophole to crack iPhones with the help of outside technology firms.

“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,” the company said in a statement. “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”

Under the latest security feature, your iOS device won’t communicate with the USB accessory or computer if you don’t initially unlock your iOS device, or if you haven’t unlocked and connected it to a computer or USB accessory within the past hour. Nor will the device charge in some instances. 

Under such circumstances, you may receive an alert telling you to unlock the iOS device first.  According to Apple, your iOS device will charge normally when it is connected to a USB power adapter.

If the USB accessory you want to connect is still not recognized after you unlock your iOS device, Apple tells you to disconnect your device from the accessory, unlock it, and then try again to reconnect the accessory. 

There is an override to the system so that your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch will always let you access USB accessories without going through the unlocking drill: Go to Settings on your iOS device, scroll down to Touch ID & Passcode (or on an iPhone X, Face ID & Passcode), and under the Allow Access When Locked listings, tap the USB Accessories switch so that green (rather than gray) is showing.

As part of iOS 11.4.1, Apple also fixes some bugs and, among other measures, addressed an issue that prevented some folks from viewing the last known location of their AirPods in Find My iPhone.

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