Apple has always prided itself with maintaining a high level of user privacy. The Cupertino based tech giant has always prioritized its users privacy in its lines of hardware from the iPhone and iPod to the iPads with strict security and privacy policies. Cupertino has been at the forefront of a boiling battle between the government and technology companies over user privacy and data encryption. Now, Apple’s airtight security on the iPhone is putting it on the spotlight — a spotlight on the US government anti-terrorism radar. Apple is at crossroads, facing a choice between morals, user privacy and of course legal repercussions.
A US court has ordered Apple to help the FBI solve a terrorist attack by hacking into its own device — an iPhone 5c. The case involved three white males, clad in military fatigue that opened fire on a local county event killing at least 14 and wounding 14 others. The iPhone 5c belonged to on of the shooters — an american, Syed Rizwan Farook. At first, this sounds as simple as saying cheesecake, but there is more to it. There are far reaching consequences if Apple complies and the are a handful reasons you should be concerned about Apple’s compliance too.
The FBI obtained an order from a California district court asking Apple for assistance cracking Farook’s passcode. The order is asking Apple to tweak up a customized terrorist-phone-specific version of its iOS software to help the FBI unlock the phone. Unfortunately, there lies the problem — giving the US government a backdoor to one iPhone is virtually giving them a backdoor to all iPhone there is. The court order isn’t demanding that Apple unlock the phone, which is an iPhone 5C running iOS 9 but rather it’s asking the iPhone maker to create a software to bypass iOS security measures — including “an auto-delete function that erases the key needed to decrypt data once a passcode is entered incorrectly after ten tries as well as a timed delay after each wrong password guess”. The security measures that the FBI wants to get around are critical privacy features on Apple’s iOS9, because they safeguard your phone against hackers and spying government agencies that use the brute force attack to gain access and hijack private data. With Apple’s track record of opposing government access to encrypted data, it’s not surprising that Apple is viciously opposing the court order . There is more than just Farook’s privacy at stake here and there is certainly more than just American iPhone owners data security at stake too. With a backdoor to the iOS— it’s safe to assume that from Tokyo and Beijing to London and Mumbai, all iOS powered hardwares would be at the mercy of the US government. After the controversial Edward Snowden episode, it’s plausible to think that the US may not be merciful afterall. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cooks published a message stressing why the company won’t build a backdoor to its Operating System;
In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. 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 suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.
Referring to the mass shooting, the message added;
We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists. When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal. We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But 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. Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
Ya, some of us using smartphones juiced up by Alphabet’s Android might probably be chuckling — but Apple’s compliance will set a dangerous prcedent for data security and user privacy. Afterall, if Apple is compelled to give out the master key to its devices, it’s going to take only a short time before Google and Microsoft is compelled to do same.