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Surprise iOS 12.5 and watchOS 6.3 Updates Bring Exposure Notification and a Security Fix

It’s an early Christmas miracle for the remaining users of the iPhone 6, Apple Watch Series 2, and earlier devices running iOS 12 or watchOS 6. Apple has released a pair of updates—iOS 12.5 and watchOS 6.3—to fix a major security hole and add support for COVID-19 exposure notifications to older iPhones. For more details on exposure notifications and a look at one of the supporting apps, see “iOS 13.7 Integrates Apple’s COVID-19 Exposure Notifications” (1 September 2020) and “A Tour of New York State’s COVID Alert NY App” (2 October 2020).

Both iOS 12.5 and watchOS 6.3 fix a single security vulnerability. Apple’s release notes say that without these updates, “Unauthorized code execution may lead to an authentication policy violation.” That makes it sound as though an attacker could essentially gain control of your iPhone or Apple Watch. Given how infrequently Apple releases security updates for older versions of iOS and watchOS, we recommend installing these updates once they’ve been out for a week without generating problematic reports from the community.

As always, you can update your iPhone in Settings > General > Software Update, through iTunes in macOS 10.14 Mojave and earlier, or in the Finder in later versions. Update your Apple Watch by going to My Watch > General > Software Update in the Watch app on your iPhone.

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Comments About Surprise iOS 12.5 and watchOS 6.3 Updates Bring Exposure Notification and a Security Fix

Notable Replies

  1. That must be what happened with my sister on her iPhone 6 Plus. She didn’t know what it was, and stopped it - and basically broke her iPhone!

    She contacted me on her iPad to say it went into an “upgrading” state. She didn’t know what was happening so she forced it to stop. Uh oh. Always a bad idea to interrupt an upgrade.

    After that, even with restarts, she got the “attach cable to iTunes” picture. I told her everything was probably all gone. She had no iCloud backups! But even connecting it to her old MacBook didn’t help. It said it couldn’t be upgraded.

    She called Apple Support and they spent two hours on the phone with her trying things and they told her it sounds like the iPhone went bad. But they made a Genius Bar appointment for her anyway.

    She took it to the Apple Store and they also tried a lot of things and said, sorry, but it looks like it went bad.

    She then went home, pressed the home button, and voila. Everything was back to normal. Nothing was lost. All the apps and photos were there!

    I immediately helped her upgrade her iCloud storage plan so a backup can take place. And while I would like her to upgrade to an iPhone SE 2020, I’m really curious. What could have happened here?


  2. You don’t need iCloud to back up. That old MacBook she used to connect to recover? That MacBook can make a backup to disk of her entire iPhone. If she chooses to encrypt that backup it will in fact contain more backed up information from her iPhone than any other technique I’m aware of.

  3. That’s true. We checked though and there were no backups. It’s quite an old PowerBook G4.

    Her entire data, including photos, is just 7 GB. And that’s including her iPad. So for just $0.99/month for a 50 GB package it seemed easier to just backup everything in iCloud and also turn on full iCloud Photos.

    I’m really curious now why it came back to life after nobody thought it would.

  4. GV

    My wife and I both have the iPhone 6S running iOS 12.4.1. They were purchased new in January 2019. The only update available is iOS 14.3, which I am avoiding due to reported battery life problems that are particularly onerous on the 6S.

    Apparently I missed at least one incremental iOS 12 update. . . Is there any way I can update our iPhones to 12.5?

  5. No. Apple offers that incremental update only to devices that cannot run iOS after 12.x (for iPhones, it’s only the 5s, 6, and 6+). Since the 6s can run iOS 14, the only update available to you is 14.3.

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