Monday, August 10, 2020

FBI bullied Apple into dropping plans for end-to-end encryption on iCloud backups

Apple has come a long way building a reputation of having what is arguably the most secure mobile operating system – iOS. Whether this is true or not, we can all agree that it’s very difficult to hack into an iPhone or infect it with malware. When it comes to security, Apple makes no compromises. This is very reassuring, unless of course, you work for the FBI.

In a recently released report from Reuters, Apple had planned on offering end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups two years ago. However, it scrapped those plans after heavy protests from the FBI. According to them, such a feature would hamper FBI investigations in cases where iCloud data could be used as evidence during criminal prosecutions.

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Basically, end-to-end encryption is a communication system that allows only the sender and receiver to read messages. Essentially, this cuts out third parties and eavesdroppers from the communication cycle, even Apple itself. Messages sent using end-to-end encryption cannot even be deciphered by the server facilitating the communication as only the devices carrying out the communication hold the decryption keys.

The FBI has a history of twisting Apple’s arm into handing over private iCloud information. With a court order, the FBI can request to access any user’s iCloud data from Apple, even without the user’s knowledge. They can also get assistance from Apple to retrieve iCloud data from an iPhone during an investigation, as seen in 2019 when Apple was forced to provide iCloud data of two of Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani’s iPhones, after he was implicated of perpetrating the attack on Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. Had Apple already implemented end-to-end encryption at the time, not even they would have been able to access Alshamrani’s iCloud information.

It is yet to be determined if Apple wishes to implement end-to-end encryption in the future, or whether it will bow to the FBI’s requests for a backdoor.

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