Apple is apparently taking the nuclear option in its war with the FBI — making it impossible for it to comply with future demands for data from law enforcement.
According to new reports published by The Financial Times and The New York Times, the Cupertino technology giant is introducing new security measures that will make it impossible to access customers’ data, both on devices and in the cloud.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This could go all the way to the US Supreme Court
Apple and the FBI are currently battling over the contents of an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI wants access to the data, arguing that it may contain clues as to the attackers’ motivations, and potentially prevent future attacks.
But because the phone is encrypted, the FBI needs Apple’s help to access the information. The Bureau isn’t asking Apple to remove the encryption, or provide the encryption keys — something that it wouldn’t be able to do. Instead, it wants Apple to build a new version of iOS, the phone’s operating system, with certain security protections removed, which it can then load onto the device so the FBI can brute-force guess every single possible passcode combination.
Apple refuses to do this, arguing that building this software would make all iPhones less safe. The company’s supporters also fear it would set a far-reaching precedent: Any company could be forced to create new software to hack into its users.
A Califorina court has ordered Apple to comply with the FBI’s demands; Apple is appealing.
CEO Tim Cook says he’s willing to take this battle all the way to the US Supreme Court. “We would be prepared to take this issue all the way,” the executive told ABC News in an interview on Wednesday.
Apple is doubling down on security
But even if the FBI wins this fight, it might not mean much. The New York Times reports that Apple is already working on new security measures that will fix the vulnerability that the FBI is attempting to exploit. It doesn’t outright say, but it sounds like it could prevent Apple (or anyone else) updating a device’s software without the passcode being entered first — meaning existing security measures couldn’t be removed or bypassed.
Meanwhile, Apple is reportedly taking its security for iCloud, its cloud data hosting service, a step forward. According to The Financial Times (which bases its report on “people familiar with [Apple’s] plans”), Apple is planning to encrypt iCloud backups of users’ data in such a way that it doesn’t hold an encryption key.
This would make it impossible for it to provide law enforcement with access to the unencrypted data, even if it wanted to.
These reported measures make a legislative response to the debate all the more likely. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called for a Congressional committee to discuss the issue. “We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms,” he wrote in a memo to employees. “Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.”
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