When Apple released iOS 15 last fall, iPhone users got a bunch of new and improved features including support for portrait mode and spatial audio in Facetime calls, Focus modes for reduced distractions, and the ability to detect and interact with text in photos thanks to Live Text.

But last year Apple also offered folks who weren’t ready to upgrade another option: stick with iOS 14 and continue receiving security updates. And that worked… until it didn’t.

iOS 14

The last security update released for iOS 14 was iOS 14.8.1, which was made available October 26, 2021. But last week some folks noticed that Apple had stopped offering folks running older builds of iOS 14 an option to upgrade to version 14.8.1. Want the latest security fixes? Then you’ll need to upgrade to iOS 15 to get them.

Ars Technica reached out to Apple for comment and received confirmation that this isn’t a bug – the company says the security updates were supposed to be a temporary option, which… fair enough. I don’t think anybody expected them to be available forever. But it seems like they were only available for a few months, which is a little surprising, especially since Apple never said anything about how long it would continue offering updates until after it had stopped (and after someone specifically reached out to ask the company).

In fact, if you visit Apple’s iOS 15 features page, there’s still a Software Updates section that reads “iOS may now offer a choice between two software update versions in the Settings app. You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it’s released for the latest features and most complete set of security updates. Or continue on iOS 14 and still get important security updates.”

Here’s a screenshot from January 19, 2021 in case that text does change at a later time:

From Apple’s iOS 15 website

Given that every time Apple rolls out a new version of iOS, complaints will inevitably arise that it makes some older phones feel slower, I suspect some folks were happy to have the option of skipping this upgrade. But it looks like that option just got more complicated: you can still avoid updating your phone, but you shouldn’t expect any more security updates. And that could eventually leave your phone vulnerable to malware.

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  1. A few months ago, iPadOS 14.8.1 was offered to me for a only a few days before I could find time to install it. The offer was cancelled on iPadOS 15 being offered. It has been the first time that I have seen any security update being cancelled and not replaced by a corrected one of the same i(Pad)OS version.

    Furthermore, since mid December 2021, Apple annoys me as a German iPadOS 14.8 user with recurring messages to accept iCloud terms or enter my Apple-ID password for no obvious reason but mabe as part of trying to push two-factor-authentification.

    Usually, I update operating systems to their latest versions but for iPadOS 15 my choice differs. Apple planned to install image scanning spyware in iPadOS 15 so updating to it might be the opposite of a security update – it might be the installation of, and agreement to, malware.

    Apple’s altered plans due to the world-wide shitstorm have hardly been communicated at all.

    Therefore, I read the iPadOS 15 terms for using iCloud and using the OS. The iPadOS 15 iCloud terms contain conditions allowing Apple’s supervision of every file on, or transferred to, the iCloud unless, and here things are highly ambiguous, prohibited by the laws of enduser’s country or possibly the EU. The iPadOS 15 terms of the OS itself do, in their current version, not contain any conditions allowing Apple’s supervision of the enduser’s files.

    Therefore, one usage strategy might be to avoid iCloud entirely but otherwise use the iPad. This is said easier than done, e.g., because currently recognising a deactivated iCloud requires checking whether all checkboxes are Off and checking again regularly to counter GameCenter’s attempt to access iCloud and checking after each app installation granting itself access to iCloud. This regardless of the enduser never having accepted the iCloud terms but always having rejected them explicitly.

    Given the very unclear security situation of iPadOS 15 and its possible image scanning malware, I called Apple. Ordinary stuff knew nothing. A supervisor then stated, according to his knowledge (and apart from the family security’s opt-in of device-local image scanning and any necessary hash downloads for this purpose before), that currently and in the future Apple would always (he meant unless there is a warrant provided by the police) 100%, 200%, 300% (his words) respect the enduser’s privacy of his files and data on his local device, during transfer and on the iCloud, and never scan the contents of any files.

    He also suggested to visit the Apple webpage, go to Support, go to Search, search for privacy, data protection / security and related policies. There are lots such webpages and documents. On the first look, their contents amounts to “Apple respects the enduser’s privacy and does everything to enforce it”. I will, however, take the necessary time to read all that in detail. At least until then, I do not “upgrade” to iPadOS 15.