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Why deleted photos on iPhone come back on some iOS devices

Why deleted photos on iPhone come back on some iOS devices


Thanks to Apple and a third-party researcher, we finally know why long-deleted photos started reappearing on devices running iOS 17.5. Earlier this week, Apple released the iOS 17.5.1 iPhone update to fix the issue, which it blamed on database corruption, but the company remained tight-lipped about what specifically caused old files containing deleted nude photos to start appearing on devices that didn't host them.

Apple detailed the issue to 9to5Mac, saying that the issue was caused by corrupted database entries on the device's file system, affecting files on the device itself, but not files that were synced to iCloud, which may have been carried over from an old device when restored from a backup or during transfers between devices.

Apple said photo and video files on users' phones were not accessible and that only a small number of people were affected.

In a now-deleted post, a Reddit user claimed that a bug in iOS 17.5 caused photos to reappear on an iPad that had been wiped and sold to a friend. However, Apple claims this isn't possible, telling 9to5Mac that all files and content are permanently deleted when a device is fully wiped. Essentially, Apple is claiming that the user either didn't follow the correct device reset procedure or is lying because of Reddit clout. The company said that only a small number of people were affected by the database issue, and that Apple doesn't have access to any photo or video files on users' phones.

Security researchers at Synactiv also looked into this issue in more detail by reverse engineering the iOS 17.5.1 update used to fix it. A detailed explanation can be found in the full report here, but in a nutshell, iOS 17.5 added a migration routine that scanned and re-imported photos from the filesystem. This routine was removed in Apple's recent update because it caused old files to be re-indexed on the local filesystem and added back to the photo gallery.

Based on this code, Synacktiv said it can be said that the resurfaced photos were still on the file system and were just discovered by a migration routine added in iOS 17.5. Based on this analysis alone, it is not possible to conclude why the photos were on the file system in the first place. Synacktiv's post refers readers to this comment on Reddit as a plausible explanation, including the possibility that the user may have saved images in both the Files and Photos apps and only deleted the latter.




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