Apple was consistent throughout the ongoing legal digital privacy hassle with the Department of Justice: the company refuses to break into its own device.
However, it might not have to.
This Monday, federal authorities let the media know that a third party volunteered to crack the iPhone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook. This means that the FBI could get a hold of the data from the iPhone 5s without Apple’s cooperation. An Israeli firm will reportedly do the trick.
This possibility could turn out to be a blessing or a curse for the OEM, or both.
The question is: what is worse for Apple, to give in to government pressure and agree to write its own decryption software, or to see its handset unlocked by third-party experts?
Digital privacy advocates, civil liberty groups and Apple itself swear that the first variant is far worse.
The organizations argue that a lot of people’s lives are stored and even lived digitally. To allow government access to the customers’ privacy is an option that Apple refuses to consider, for both corporate and altruistic reasons.
For one thing, the company branded itself as one of the most secure electronics manufacturers. For another, the privacy invasion precedent could impact upon any tech company in the future, and Apple wants that Pandora’s box to never open.
“We need to decide, as a nation, how much power the government should have over our data and our privacy,” says Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, as cited by the LA Times.
Some experts, however, point out that the FBI’s claim that a third party can break into Farook’s phone proves that iPhones are not as secure as advertised.
“Despite the veneer of security, the data on our iPhones can be stolen by Apple and others,” said David Cowan, cybersecurity specialist at Bessemer Venture Partners. He adds that iPhones would be more secure should Apple accept cooperation with the FBI.
Apple insiders who wanted to remain anonymous told the LA Times that their company never claimed to craft unbreakable software.
However, it is known that Apple constantly upgrades its security features. For example, all phones manufactured after 2013 include secure enclaves that block the phone’s flash drive from being copied and opened during a passcode-cracking attempt.
The company considers its customers security as vital, but studies show that privacy is actually low on the handset owners’ priority list. A recent poll demonstrates that only 10 percent of customers search for security in their new phones. Most prefer to ponder if the performance-price combo suits their needs and budget.
Electronic Frontier Foundation executive director Cindy Cohn explains why Apple’s strong standpoint could be its winning ticket, even if the FBI cracks the iPhone via third-party help.
“The concern is the FBI is trying to shift the ground by saying you can build a lock as strongly as you want so long as you also build us a pick to unlock it,” Cohn said. She notes that this option creates much more danger than the FBI unlocking the iPhone unassisted by Apple.
The bright side to the legal proceedings between FBI and Apple is that it forces all tech companies to revise and reinforce their security measures.
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