Mac, iPad, and iPhone users can choose to automatically install system security patches when they are released with a new Apple feature called Rapid Security Response.
Rapid Security Response aims to secure Apple’s platforms with automated security updates. The idea is that if every user automatically installs such patches, the entire ecosystem becomes inherently more secure.
Announced last year at WWDC 2022, Apple began testing the feature in October. During beta testing, it shared four content-free downloads to test its distribution system, including a recent test in March. While the feature can be enabled on devices running the latest operating system, as of this month, Apple had not started shipping any real security patches.
What problem does Rapid Security Response solve?
Traditionally, Apple distributes security patches within iOS, iPadOS, or macOS software updates. This is effective, but not every user updates their systems in a timely manner, in part because full software updates take a while.
Making it possible to automatically download and install minor security patches as they are released makes distribution faster and users don’t have to install a full OS upgrade to stay safe.
Essentially, Rapid Security Response makes maintaining device security much easier and less disruptive to all parties, while also keeping the ecosystem a bit more secure.
How Apple explains Rapid Security Response
Apple explains that the system will “automatically install security responses and system files for iPhone and supported accessories,” adding, “some system files will always install automatically, even if Security Responses and System Files are disabled.
“Security Quick Responses involving the operating system require a reboot of the device. Security Quick Responses involving Safari require the user to exit the app,” it adds in a note on its tech support site.
How does Rapid Security Response work?
You will find Rapid Security Response as an option in Settings.
On iOS, open General>Software update and tap Automatic updates. You will see the new item Security Responses and System Files there.
On Macs, open System Settings > General > Software Update and tap the “I” button under Automatic Updates. You can then define which updates you want to download, including Security Response.
When you enable the feature, it checks for available security patches and if one is published, it downloads it.
Once the system has downloaded the security patch, you will be prompted to install it and reboot your device. The system may also share important Safari security updates.
Can you remove Rapid Security Responses before they are installed?
It is possible to remove downloaded updates from Security Response files before installing them, although this is generally not recommended as they may contain critical fixes for your device.
To remove them, open General>About>iOS version where you can check and remove the uninstalled software, or if you are using a Mac, open System Settings>General>About, tap the “I” button and uninstall it.
The only real reason to remove these updates is in case existing apps are not compatible with the patch. Apple also has an alert system that lets users know if there’s a problem with any of these rapid security updates, which may cause them to be removed.
What about business users?
If you use a fleet of devices, Apple has created APIs that device management vendors can use to give administrators control over this feature, including the ability to enable or disable it remotely.
Administrators can disable the feature, check for a software patch, enable the feature, or even block users from uninstalling these updates. Most companies are already speeding up the installation of major security patches, but those who can’t use their choice of MDM provider to manage it.
Why use Rapid Security Response?
Enforcing device security will be one of the biggest challenges we will face in 2023. As nation-state rivalries intensify, it is reasonable to expect that there will be more attempts to breach platform security; as Jamf recently warned, 21% of employee devices are misconfigured, including not installing the latest security patch.
To maintain that sanctity, Apple wants to achieve a position from which it can accelerate the distribution of security patches without demanding a lot of time or attention from its customers. It also wants to find a more elegant way to quickly distribute emergency aid.
It’s just good practice. As Michael Covington, Jamf’s vice president of portfolio strategy, recently noted, “Users must be part of the security solution, and that includes timely updates of the operating system or applications when requested.”
Rapid Security Response means we should all get security patches faster and installations should take a lot less time. It should also provide a rapid remediation path for platform-level solutions to newly identified vulnerabilities.
What’s next for Rapid Security Response?
It is speculated that Apple will embrace a monthly release cycle of security software updates that Rapid Security Response uses to improve security across all of its platforms.
It’s also interesting that Apple may upgrade Safari with this feature, as it hints that application developers will also be able to automate major security patches for their products at some point, though this hasn’t been discussed yet.
Apple is now expected to start using the service after iOS 16.4 rolls out in the next week or so.
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