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What is iCloud Advanced Data Protection? New Apple end-to-end encryption feature explained

Apple is stepping up its protection of users’ iCloud data by adding a new end-to-end encryption system called Advanced Data Protection.

The optional feature will protect iCloud backups of almost everything uploaded to the cloud storage locker, including iMessage Backups, Notes, and Photos.

The new feature announced by Apple on Wednesday, will offer protection against hackers as the data can only be decrypted by users’ trusted devices. Not even Apple would be able to access the data, the company promises.

The enhancements promise to boost Apple’s security credentials after a rocky few months when it comes to its reputation on the user privacy front. The creeping prevalence of advertisements on iOS have suggested the company is becoming more interesting in leveraging user data to help boost revenues on the App Store, for example.

“Apple makes the most secure mobile devices on the market. And now, we are building on that powerful foundation,” said Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of Security Engineering and Architecture in a Newsroom post. “Advanced Data Protection is Apple’s highest level of cloud data security, giving users the choice to protect the vast majority of their most sensitive iCloud data with end-to-end encryption so that it can only be decrypted on their trusted devices.”

Here’s all we know about Advanced Data Protection in iCloud so far.

What is included in Advanced Data Protection?

The additional end-to-end encryption joins the 14 elements of iCloud data already covered by the enhanced security tech, which also includes Health, Maps and iCloud Keychain. The total number of categories covered if users opt in to Advanced Data Protection will rise to 23.

The new categories are:

  • Device Backup
  • Messages Backup
  • iCloud Drive
  • Notes
  • Photos
  • Reminders
  • Safari Bookmarks
  • Siri Shortcuts
  • Voice Memos and Wallet Passes

In fact, the company says, the only data categories that won’t be covered for those using Advanced Data Protection are those that require interoperability with other systems. These include iCloud Mail, Contacts and Calendar.

How to use Advanced Data Protection in Cloud

Apple says this is an opt-in feature users will have to switch on themselves. Users will see the option in Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Advanced Data Protection. Once switched on, users will have to set up an account recovery method because Apple will no longer have the keys. We’ll have more detailed instructions when the feature launches.

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When does Advanced Data Protection launch

Apple says the feature is launching globally in early 2023, but will be available for beta testers in the US by the end of this year.

Why the Feds will hate it

The new feature is also likely to put Apple more at odds with law enforcement agencies in the United States, who’d like greater access to the data of criminal suspects, rather than greater lockdowns from the iPhone manufacturer. Right now Apple does comply with some law enforcement agency requests for iCloud data, but the way Advanced Data Protection works would no longer give the company the ability to hand over iMessage log, for instance, as it’ll no longer have security keys.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Apple executive Craig Federighi said the increased attacks on users had meant the priority must be their security.

“As customers have put more and more of their personal information of their lives into their devices, these have become more and more the subject of attacks by advanced actors,” he said.

He added: “All of us in the industry who manage customer data are under constant attack by entities that are attempting to breach our systems. We have to stay ahead of future attacks with new protections.”

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