It’s not everyday that one can find something good to say about one of the large corporations. However, Apple has recently shown that it is willing to draw some boundaries on how far the government is allowed into our private information. The tech giant has refused to allow the FBI to gain entry into the San Bernardino shooter’s (Syed Farook’s) phone, which would have set, according to a letter signed by Apple CEO’s Tim Cook, a “dangerous” precedent for other iPhone users’ data.
“…Now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone… in the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession… Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.”
“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancement that protect our customers – including tens of millions of American citizens – from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Cook said. “We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data.”
A Federal Judge, Sheri Pym, had ordered Apple to construct a software that would have granted back door access into any suspects’ devices. More than the data from just one shooter is on the line here.
iPhone users currently have the ability to enable a security feature which allows a set number of attempts to correctly guess the password to unlock it. Once the number of attempts exceeds the allotted number, all data gets deleted. In order for the FBI to guess as many times as they wish to eventually gain access by “brute force,” Apple would need to write new code that would compromise key features of its security. Code that could be reused.
Since Edward Snowden’s revelations on NSA spying, American tech companies have been looking toshow their users that they are sticking it to Big Brother by introducing tougher encryption to their products. Apple has been repeatedly criticized by the FBI and NSA for protecting its users’ information.
“If…you’re a Facebook executive or an Apple executive, you’re extremely worried that the next generation of users…are going to be vulnerable to the pitch from Brazilian, and Korean and German social media companies where they advertise and say don’t use Facebook and Google because they’ll give your data to the NSA,” said Glen Greenwald in a CNBC interview last year.
Eileen Decker, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement in response to the court order, “we have made a solemn commitment to the victims and their families that we will leave no stone unturned as we gather as much information and evidence as possible. These victims and families deserve nothing less. The application filed today in federal court is another step — a potentially important step — in the process of learning everything we possibly can about the attack in San Bernardino.”
Donald Trump also waded into the debate by saying “I agree 100% with the courts. I think security over all — we have to open it up, and we have to use our heads.” He had also previously threatened to kill Edward Snowden, by the way.
(Unrelated: It should be noted that Snowden had previously revealed that the NSA had created a spy software, DropoutJeep, specifically designed to work with iPhones with a “100% success rate,” though it is unknown if Apple was in on the secret. For its part, Apple claimed it was unaware of the matter.
It is also unknown to what extent the NSA and FBI really need Apple’s permission. The Intercept notes that the NSA had hunted down and spied on employees of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards, allowing them to hack into the internal computer network of the company and steal encryption keys. These would then allow them to monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies or governments, bypassing 3G, 4G and LTE encryption. Last year hackers also won a million dollars from a firm with ties to the NSA, for remotely jailbreaking iPhones. )