18th February 2016
This week Apple received a demand from the FBI to unlock an encrypted iPhone, a ruling to which they have vehemently objected, with Apple CEO Tim Cook publishing an open letter on the Apple website. The letter said that the ruling ‘threatens the security’ of its customers, and saying that the moment called for public discussion.
Surprisingly, this argument has arisen over just one phone, which was owned by one of the San Bernandino shooters (Syed Farook). Currently, iPhones encrypt all data by default and require a four digit passcode (which user has chosen) to unlock it. With this passcode enabled, anyone attempting to unlock the phone has ten chances to enter the correct passcode. If the number of incorrect entries exceeds 10, the phone’s data is erased. For anyone who has had a phone stolen, knowing that criminals cannot do further harm by potentially access online accounts, is a comforting feature.
However, the phone in question belongs to a known terrorist, and the FBI wants access to its data. Public opinion should be on their side. (In fact popularist US Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, today exclaimed “who do they think they are!” regarding Apple’s refusal to assist the FBI on a matter of national security and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has put out a statement saying, “Apple chose to protect a dead Isis terrorist’s privacy over the security of the American people”.
This isn’t really the issue though. Apple has helped investigators access its users data for years – all the FBI needed was a search warrant. In 2014, the company changed its policy (and its encryption), making it mathematically impossible for them to decrypt its users data, even if it wanted to. This is why the spat has ensued: Apple think that the FBI has gone too far in asking them to produce a new version of its iPhone operating system which would fundamentally bypass critical security controls and allow them to access previously inaccessible data.
Apple’s concern is that the law operates on precedent, and by agreeing to build an alternative version of the iOS operating system, one which bypasses the most basic of its security features, the company is concerned that it won’t be used for just this one phone from San Bernadino.
Why do they want Apple to do this?
This, according to Apple sets a “dangerous precedent” and they continue to state that what the government is asking them to do is “hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers”.
At Crypta Labs, we side with Apple on this matter. This is a threat to data security and a breach of privacy, we saw the effects of such government surveillance through the actions of Edward Snowden.
If a quantum random number generator, such as the one we are developing was embedded to a mobile device seeding encryption, the FBI would not have much success even if a court order was successful.
To see Tim Cook’s letter in full, here’s the link http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/