SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple has added additional security to the software that runs its phones and tablets so that not even the company can pry into a password-protected iPhone or iPad. The move is meant to reassure the millions of people who are increasingly storing vital and sometimes very personal documents and photos on their devices.
The extra safeguard is built into Apple's latest mobile software, iOS 8, which the company released Wednesday.
Apple Inc. revealed the stronger protection in a new section of its website that is prefaced with a letter from CEO Tim Cook emphasizing the company's "fundamental" commitment to privacy and security.
"Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of all our hardware, software, and services, including iCloud and new services like Apple Pay," Cook wrote, referring to the company's cloud storage and mobile payment services. "And we continue to make improvements."
Apple's inability to unlock password-protected smartphones and tablets could frustrate law enforcement officials who sometimes obtain court orders to vacuum personal data off phones for potential use as evidence in investigations.
"I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services," Cook wrote. "We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will."
As CNET points out, government surveillance agencies have reportedly obtained information on users' electronic communications from a number of tech companies including Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, among others.
Apple's security update comes just weeks after the iCloud hacking incident in which dozens of celebrities' private photos were accessed and posted online. The company determined it was a result of targeted attacks on individual users' accounts, not a systemic security gap, but promised to bolster security.
In his open letter, Cook noted that Apple has now expanded its two-step verification security process to protect "all of the data you store and keep up to date with iCloud," in addition to protecting Apple ID account information.
Two-step verification is an optional security measure in which the company sends a text message with a code to a user's phone that they must enter to complete the login process. It's intended to keep hackers from getting into an account using a stolen password. Users can set it up on Apple's website.