No Device Left Behind? Apple Releases Swath of Security Patches for Older Operating Systems

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The longevity of Apple devices has always been almost legendary, with the company frequently supporting 4–5 years’ worth of older iPhones, iPads, and Macs with each new major operating system release. However, Apple’s support for older devices doesn’t end there.

While last year’s release of iOS 16 drew the line at the 2017 iPhone models — the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X — Apple has just released a critical security update to ensure that folks still toting many earlier models will still be protected against newly discovered vulnerabilities.

Specifically, a sub-point update to iOS 15, dubbed iOS 15.7.5, addresses the same security issues that were patched with iOS 16.4.1 late last week. The vulnerabilities in question are described by Apple as problems with IOSurfaceAccelerator and WebKit that would have allowed for “arbitrary code execution,” in some cases with full kernel privileges. These could have been triggered by either a malicious app or “maliciously crafted web content.”

More significantly, Apple notes that it is aware of reports that both of these issues “may have been actively exploited.” Credit for the discovery of both vulnerabilities goes to Clément Lecigne of Google’s Threat Analysis Group and Donncha Ó Cearbhaill of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. This suggests that they may have been targeted by the same exploit, but that’s not entirely clear.

The relative haste in releasing these security patches for older devices suggests that they may be more serious than most, making it a good idea to install the latest updates on your Apple devices as soon as possible to ensure that you’re not exposed to a potential attack.

These issues also appear to go beyond the iPhone, as Apple has released similar updates for its other platforms, including iPadOS 15.7.5, macOS Monterey 12.6.5, and macOS Big Sur 11.7.6, all of which patch the IOSurfaceAccelerator vulnerability; presumably the WebKit problem doesn’t exist in those older macOS releases.

Taken together, these security updates cover nearly eight years of iPhone models, nine years of iPad releases, and a decade of Macs.

The iOS 15.7.5 update can be installed on the 2015 iPhone 6s, 2016 iPhone 7, and first-generation iPhone SE from early 2016. Similarly, iPadOS 15.7.5 is available for the 2014 iPad Air 2, 2015 iPad mini 4, and the final iPod touch. macOS Big Sur 11.7.6 goes back all the way to the 2013 MacBooks.

Any devices older than these can’t be upgraded beyond iOS 12 or macOS Catalina. It’s unclear if these vulnerabilities exist in those much older iOS releases, but Apple has to draw the line somewhere, and it’s fair to say that if you’re still toting a 2014 iPhone 6 or 2012 MacBook, it’s probably time to upgrade.

There are limits to how long any company supports its products, and that’s especially true when it comes to consumer electronics and technology. Apple already sets a very high bar in this area, but there’s a point at which it won’t even take your money to try and repair older devices as it simply becomes impossible to get the necessary parts.

Once an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or other Apple product has been off the market for five years, it gets classed as “vintage,” at which point you may still be able to get it serviced on a best-effort basis, but there are no guarantees. Once seven years have passed, the product gets classed as “obsolete,” and Apple and its official service partners won’t even try to fix it for you, with the exception of MacBooks, where you may still be able to get battery replacements for an additional three years.

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