Apple won’t weaken encryption on your iPhone without a fight

Apple is fighting to keep your data encrypted. The tech giant has now refused the FBI's request to devise an operating system that would allow the security services access to encrypted data. We look at why Apple is so determined to secure your information

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has said the company will challenge a court order to help FBI investigators build a “master key” to access encrypted data.

The specific phone that the FBI want to access belongs to San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. But in a message to Apple customers, Cook stated that he believes the FBI’s current demands would only represent the beginning of their encroach on privacy and would signal a “dangerous precedent”.

The Apple CEO also criticised the FBI’s unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority, rather than asking for legislative action through Congress.

“The implications of the government’s demands are chilling,” said Cook. “If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.

“The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

Gaining access through the backdoor

The FBI has requested Apple build a version of iOS – iPhone’s operating system – that could be installed and used to circumvent current security features.

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

At present Apple says it has complied with valid subpoenas and search warrants, but has taken exception to what it sees as an “overreach by the US government “.

“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,” says Cook. “While the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Apple has said that it objects to the FBI’s request “to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack”, and that their court-ordered mandate amounts to asking the engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone “to weaken those protections and make our users less safe”.

Apple’s motivation

Some commentators have suggested Apple’s motives might not be quite as noble as they seem at first glance. “I’m not in a position to guess whether Apple can break the encryption on its devices – that’s one of those things where you need highly skilled cryptanalysts to bang on them for some years and not find holes,” says Open Rights Group advisory council member, Wendy Grossman.


Image courtesy of pio3 / Featured image courtesy of Marco Prati /

“What we do know is that Apple promised its customers that it could not access their data. So either it’s infeasible, as they say, or they would be breaking their word to customers. Neither is a desirable state for a public company, so I’m not surprised they’ve gone to court.”

Whatever the tech giants rational for refusing the FBI’s request, Grossman agrees with Apple’s argument that once a backdoor has been established innocent people’s data will be exposed.

“There are always hard cases with respect to law enforcement’s desire for more information. However, Apple’s decision to provide encryption it can’t’ crack for its customers is a rational one because opening the gunman’s phone, for example, doesn’t just expose the gunman’s data but also data relating to innocent family members and friends and other contacts,” says Grossman.

Battling on multiple fronts

The FBI’s request to bypass iPhone’s encryption follows the proposals made by policy makers in California and New York to ban the sale of encrypted phones. In their letter to customers Apple point out that such a policy would “hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data,” while criminals would still be able to encrypt data, using tools already available to them.

You cannot make a hole that only good guys can use

“The difficulty with policies such as those that have been alluded to by both the US and the UK of banning the use of encryption where law enforcement can’t gain access is a really bad idea, for several reasons. One, you cannot make a hole that only good guys can use, so a law like that opens all of us up to much worse and more pervasive criminal attack that we’ve seen before,” says Grossman.

“Democratic societies have long imposed limits on what law enforcement can access in an effort to balance the right to privacy of ordinary people and their right to protection from crime. Criminals plan in houses, but we don’t require that every householder deposit a copy of their house key in the local police station –this is a close analogy.”

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC