Apple intends to make an unhackable operating system, NY Times reported on February 24. This is in the wake of a court order demanding that Apple create software that will allow FBI to access an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino terrorism case.
The information adds a new twist to the already rife tension between the US government and hi-tech companies over encryption. Apple assured its customers that it would not comply with court orders seeking to compromise their data integrity, until it runs out of all legal options.
Just one device, says the government
The device that is at the center of contention is an iPhone 5c, which is believed to belong to one of the terror suspects connected to the San Bernardino attack that left 14 people dead and many others injured.
The government wants Apple to design a tool that will prevent the device in question from deleting data when the wrong password is entered. The authorities will then try to hack into the device by brute force whereby they use computers to systematically test all the possible combinations through trial and error until the final unlock code is found.
Apple insists that such software would be disastrous if it ever got into the hands of the wrong people. Not only would all users’ identity be at risk but it would also expose their finances to theft.
The FBI insists it is only interested in one mobile device. In response to Apple’s stance communicated to the public earlier, the Department of Justice asked the court to push the company to respond quickly to the order.
Even though the government is ready to allow the iPhone manufacturer do all the hacking in-house, and only provide the needed information, Apple claims that, even if criminals do not get hold of the software, acquiescing to such a request from the government could set dangerous precedents – that in future, the government could use such requests to acquire sensitive information of general users.
Praises tech giants
The debate on whether or not the government should compel Apple to help it with investigations in this way has attracted mixed reactions. Tim Cook has received praises from the top brass of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Twitter among others. Facebook in particular has vowed to fight aggressively against government efforts aimed at diluting security systems of corporates.
A divided public
While most tech companies seem to share the same view with Apple, the public opinion is a little bit different.
Polls done by Pew Research Center show that 51 percent of citizens feel that Apple should assist the government in unlocking this particular device. 38 percent oppose the move, while 11 percent of interviewed correspondents had not yet taken sides at the time statistics were collected.
The unhackable system
The new security system that Apple is said to be working on will not allow anybody without the right password to access encrypted data- not even Apple itself.
In an encrypted database, chunks of data from various sources are mixed up such that even if the data was to be intercepted, it would make no sense to the hacker. The system however keeps track of each piece and reconstructs the information once it reaches its destination.
To see the information intended to reach a particular iPhone therefore, you first have to unlock the phone itself.
Currently, Apple is able to access iOS devices by writing a hacking program like the one the government is demanding. With the new security measure however, only the user of a device with the correct password will be able to open the phone. This means that in the future, the government will not be able to order iPhone to crack into its systems, because even if it did, the manufacturer would have no way of carrying out the request.
Forgot your pass code?
When the new iPhone security feature comes into action, not only the government will feel the pinch but some consumers as well. If a user forgets his or her password, their phone will become “as useful as a brick”. There might be no more iPhone password resets as the company won’t have a reset button.
However, it will not be the first time iPhone users have woken up to find their phones no longer functional. Stories about “Error 53” are all over the internet. When any component of any component running on iOS 9 is replaced by an unauthorized technician, the device shuts down and will no longer work- not even when you take it back to Apple.
As tech firms continue to use privacy as their number one marketing tool, they not only have to invest in high profile research to keep ahead of advancing techniques of criminals, but also have to start fighting against the prying eyes of the government.
In more liberal countries like the US, at least firms still have the chance to fight back deal blows if they put more effort into legal research. But there is also public opinion to deal with, and if the Pew reports are anything to go by, citizens’ strong stand on privacy might be waning.
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