Apple clarifies security update coverage: Only the latest OSes are fully patched

Enlarge / The default wallpaper for macOS 11 Big Sur.

Apple

Earlier this week, Apple launched a doc clarifying its terminology and insurance policies round software program upgrades and updates. Most of the data in the doc is not new, however the firm did present one clarification about its update coverage that it hadn’t made specific earlier than: Despite offering security updates for a number of variations of macOS and iOS at any given time, Apple says that solely gadgets operating the most up-to-date main working system variations ought to anticipate to be fully protected.

Throughout the doc, Apple makes use of “upgrade” to seek advice from main OS releases that may add massive new options and consumer interface adjustments and “update” to seek advice from smaller however extra incessantly launched patches that principally repair bugs and handle security issues (although these can sometimes allow minor function additions or enhancements as nicely). So updating from iOS 15 to iOS 16 or macOS 12 to macOS 13 is an improve. Updating from iOS 16.0 to 16.1 or macOS 12.5 to 12.6 or 12.6.1 is an update.

“Because of dependency on architecture and system changes to any current version of macOS (for example, macOS 13),” the doc reads, “not all known security issues are addressed in previous versions (for example, macOS 12).”

In different phrases, whereas Apple will present security-related updates for older variations of its working programs, solely the most up-to-date upgrades will obtain updates for each security downside Apple is aware of about. Apple at present supplies security updates to macOS 11 Big Sur and macOS 12 Monterey alongside the newly launched macOS Ventura, and in the previous, it has launched security updates for older iOS variations for gadgets that may’t set up the latest upgrades.

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This confirms one thing that impartial security researchers have been conscious of for some time however that Apple hasn’t publicly articulated earlier than. Intego Chief Security Analyst Joshua Long has tracked the CVEs patched by totally different macOS and iOS updates for years and customarily discovered that bugs patched in the latest OS variations can go months earlier than being patched in older (however nonetheless ostensibly “supported”) variations, after they’re patched in any respect.

This is related for Mac customers as a result of Apple drops help for older Mac and iDevice fashions in most upgrades, one thing that has accelerated considerably for older Intel Macs in recent times (most Macs nonetheless obtain six or seven years of upgrades, plus one other two years of updates). This signifies that yearly, there is a new batch of gadgets that are nonetheless getting some security updates however not all of them. Software like the OpenCore Legacy Patcher can be utilized to get the latest OS variations operating on older {hardware}, nevertheless it’s not all the time a easy course of, and it has its personal limitations and caveats.

That mentioned, this most likely should not dramatically change your calculus for when to improve or cease utilizing an older Mac. Most individuals operating an up-to-date Big Sur or Monterey set up with an up-to-date Safari browser needs to be protected from most high-priority threats, particularly in case you additionally preserve the different apps in your Mac up to date. And Apple’s documentation does not change something about the way it updates older software program; it merely confirms one thing that had already been noticed.

We’ve requested Apple to be extra upfront about its security communication, and this can be a step ahead in that regard. But in case you imagine you are being particularly focused by attackers, you might have another excuse to ensure your software program (and {hardware}) are fully up to date and upgraded.

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