How to remove automatically installed iPhone security patches

Apple now allows users to remove any iPhone security patches that were automatically installed by iOS 16’s Rapid Security Response system. Here’s how to do that.

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The Apple Park headquarters filmed at sunset | Image: Carles Rabada / Unsplash
  • What’s happening? Apple has acknowledged that users can remove any security patches installed by the new Rapid Security Response feature in iOS 16.
  • Why care? Sometimes an app you use most often won’t work after a rapid security response or you may need to test something before a patch was installed. Well, now you can roll back the iPhone’s security patches!
  • What to do? Don’t touch this feature unless you know what you’re doing.

Delete iPhone security patches

Apple has updated its support document to confirm that it is now possible to manually remove any security patches for critical exploits that were automatically installed by iOS 16’s Rapid Security Response system.

In Settings → General → About, touch “iOS Version” and then choose “Remove Security Update.” If you don’t see this option, there are no rapid security patches installed. You can also reinstall any removed rapid security responses later.

But when said patch becomes part of a standard iOS software update, it gets installed permanently and can no longer be removed.

What is iOS 16’s Rapid Security Response feature?

Rapid Security Response is a feature of iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura designed to permit Apple to deliver security patches for critical vulnerabilities without fully updating your iPhone. The goal is to deliver critical patches before they become part of other improvements in a future software update.

It lets Apple continue releasing security updates for older operating systems (a good example is iOS 15.7, a bug-fix update that arrived alongside iOS 16).

How to get Rapid Security Responses on iPhone

You can get Rapid Security Responses automatically on your iPhone if you go to Settings → General → Software Update → Automatic Updates and make sure that “Security Responses & System Files” is turned on.

Doing so will ensure that any rapid security responses and system files are automatically downloaded and installed on your iPhone and supported accessories.

If you turn off automatic Rapid Security Responses updates, you can manually install these security patches in Settings → General → Software Update.

Some security patches may require restarting the device to complete the installation. Apple notes that certain system files will always be auto-installed even if rapid security responses are turned off, but doesn’t specify which ones.

This feature is also present in iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura. However, those updates are not coming out until October so Apple’s support document currently doesn’t mention them.

Why you shouldn’t remove iPhone security patches

By separating security patches from standard iOS releases, Apple can react much faster to protect the privacy and security of its customers. Say there’s a new zero-day exploit in iOS that is being used in the wild to target unsuspecting iPhone users.

As soon as Apple has created a solution to patch the vulnerability, it’s able to push and install it automatically on all devices with the Rapid Security Response feature enabled. Previously, folks had to wait until a patch was implemented in a future iOS software update, leaving them open to exploits.

The vast majority of regular users should leave the automatic iPhone patches turned on by default. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait for full iOS updates to get the patches. It goes without saying that no one should remove a security patch installed by iOS 16’s Rapid Security Response unless they have a very good reason for it.

If you’re an app developer there’s some value in being able to test your software with different security patches installed. Another example would be certain business apps and management tools. Outside of those edge cases, everyone should just turn on rapid security patches on their iPhone and be down with it.

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