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Apple's new File System adds encryption to the iPhone

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March 28, 2017

Apple said today it has released its new iOS 10.3, watchOS 3.2 and tvOS 10.2, the first two of all of which bring some extra functionality to iThings.

However, the main attraction in the new release is Apple's new File System, because it adds data encryption to the iPhone and even the Apple Watch.

To be sure, Apple lately has been very quiet about the its new file system dubbed APFS, which it revealed with little noise at last year's Worldwide Developers Conference and doesn't even mention it in the list of features in iOS 10.3.

Modernisation was the company's motivation for creating the new file system. At launch time, it pointed out that the HFS+ file system it used was designed with Steve Wozniak 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 quite substantially, as file reads and writes should be substantially faster.

However, APFS' encryption system is far more interesting when you start driling down into it.

Initially 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”.

Overall, that's an improvement on the file-only encryption implementation offered on older versions of iOS.

Apple asserts that “multi-key encryption ensures the integrity of user data. 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.”

So it initially appears to be a good improvement overall. Of course, the horrendous case of the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone last year that killed innocent Americans and all the uproar around whether or not law enforcement officers should enjoy access to its disks isn't over yet, not by a long shot.

Note however that this weekend's call by British interior minister Amber Rudd for various governments all around the world to enjoy access to encrypted communications is still being debated actively.

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 it's aware of various statistics. APFS is expected to come to MacOS later this year, Apple says.

Source: Apple.

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