A document from Apple Support revealed that Apple made a very rare change to the production of its A12 and S5 processors last fall. According to the company, Apple upgraded the Secure Enclave of these processors to a second-generation version of the storage component in fall 2020.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Secure Enclave is a security coprocessor included with almost all Apple devices to provide an extra layer of security. All data stored on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and other Apple devices is encrypted with random private keys, which can only be accessed by Secure Enclave. Secure Enclave is also responsible for storing keys that handle sensitive data such as passwords, Apple Pay, and Touch ID / Face ID.
Apple’s specific change here refers to the Secure Storage component, where this data is stored in Apple’s Secure Enclave.
The change in question was first spotted by Andrew Pantyukhin on Twitter. The cited support document appears to have been last updated in February, but the change has gone under the radar so far. Apple says:
Note: A12, A13, S4 and S5 products first launched in fall 2020 have 2nd generation secure storage component; while earlier products based on these SoCs have a 1st generation secure storage component.
This apparently means that the following products are equipped with the second generation Secure Enclave, although they do not have the latest A14 and S6 processors:
- HomePod mini – 2nd Generation S5 processor and secure storage component
- Apple Watch SE – 2nd Generation S5 processor and secure storage component
- iPad (8th generation) – A12 processor and 2nd generation secure storage component
There are some issues with Apple’s wording on this support document, however. For example, no device with the A13 processor inside was “first released in the fall of 2020”. There was also no device with the S4 processor that was “first released in the fall of 2020”. In fact, the Apple Watch Series 4 was the only device to feature the S4 processor, and it was discontinued before the secure storage component was upgraded to the second generation.
Devices first released in fall 2020 or later are equipped with a 2nd generation secure storage component. The 2nd generation secure storage component adds key lock boxes. Each counter lock box stores a 128-bit salt, a 128-bit passcode verifier, an 8-bit counter, and an 8-bit maximum retry value. Access to the meter vaults is via an encrypted and authenticated protocol.
Apple’s support document implies that the products launched before fall 2020 with these chips, even though they are still sold by apple, always use the first generation secure storage component. This includes the iPhone XR and iPad mini 5, both powered by the A12, and the iPhone SE and iPhone 11, powered by the A13.
It doesn’t appear that Apple has moved these products to the new secure storage component, even though they are newly manufactured. It’s also unclear how many units of these devices Apple still makes, compared to selling supplies it had previously made.
Apple’s support document here is quite confusing, but what makes sense is that the HomePod mini, Apple Watch SE, and iPad 8, despite using older Apple processors, benefit always using the latest Secure Enclave technology.
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