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Why Apple was right to resist government demands for a 'back door' in iOS

The biggest story of last year was the FBI trying to force Apple to compromise iOS security by creating a "back door" into iPhone and iPad. Less than technically savvy people insisted that, if they and only they had the "key" there'd be no risk of hackers, criminals, or other, less-than-friendly governments getting it. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, and just about everyone else knew there'd be no stopping it.

Maya Kosoph, writing for Vanity Fair:

Now, it appears Cook may have been right to worry about the iPhone's security. A new report from Motherboard says Cellebrite has been hacked, and its data—including highly confidential customer information, databases, and technical details about Cellebrite's products—has been stolen.

Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard, has the details:

The hackers have been hacked. Motherboard has obtained 900 GB of data related to Cellebrite, one of the most popular companies in the mobile phone hacking industry. The cache includes customer information, databases, and a vast amount of technical data regarding Cellebrite's products.The breach is the latest chapter in a growing trend of hackers taking matters into their own hands, and stealing information from companies that specialize in surveillance or hacking technologies.

It's not a question of whether or not a government "backdoor" would be similarly compromised. It's simply a question of how fast.

2016 is where we saw the right to digital privacy begin to play out on the legal stage. That's only going to continue in 2017. Nothing has been settled and no political party in any major region, regardless of its social or fiscal policy, has shown anything other than a desire to collect even more of our data, legally and otherwise.

Britain has just passed its Snooper Charter and the U.S. has just increased surveillance powers.

It's very likely the only people we'll be able to count on to protect our privacy going forward is us.

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

25 Comments
  • This really has nothing to do with having a backdoor, just an after effect. Tim doesn't trust his own team to hold the key which I understand.
    Regardless, likely will be govt mandated in the next couple of years and even more irrelevant is the fact that true data protection and privacy isn't real if your using networked devices, only lowered risk.
    And honestly, there are very few people that care about data security over convenience. Evidently in the password strength data released this week. Heck most people think their fingerprint is more secure than a password. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • No one wants to pay for insurance until they are in an accident. So to with security.
  • It has everything to do with a backdoor. It doesn't matter if "Tim's team" could be trusted or not because a vulnerability, once created, can be duplicated. The risk level is a bit of an excuse making strategy. "Someone could break down my door, therefor I'll just leave it unlocked, therefor I'll put all my valuables on the sidewalk." Spot on about people caring about convenience over security but that's where the government is supposed to protect the people. Otherwise there's not need for all sorts of protections, including health or public safety.
  • "supposed" to protect, for me not good enough. Never has been good enough... If u want privacy, the only way i ts to never provide it in the first place. We trust companies with policies to back that up. But everything goes hay-whire when a hack occurs on them, and the only excuse is "Sorry, we won't let it happen happen".. How is being sorry and giving me free credit-on my card gonna get back my life ? That to me is sub-standard if its supposed to be the "up most importance"from a company, therefore, the only way to be 100%sure is keep it to yourself.. otherwise u know what u are giving up as a consequence. Walking on the wild side unfortunately u must do, but so many people don't wanna fall victim to the law either which is why we trust companies to safeguard our info in the first place. I trust companies like anyone, but the difference is only on the based i tread carefully with what info i use... even if it comes to the legal stuff. (required by law) etc etc... To me, there is just no other way to be safe. If its something walking on a 'fine line' that would not likely be used for verification then as far as i'm concerned, it's not needed to given out
  • With the hacking of the DNC as well as Cellbrite, those of you who stood on the side of government when it demanded that Apple provide an across the board backdoor into IOS and the iPhone, do you still think support the government's stance? Do you still feel the government is our biggest safety net?
  • Yes, don't like it feel free to leave Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • As if people can just "leave" just like that, it's a bit more complicated. We rely on a lot more than the government to keep us secure, and Apple have every right to resist a government back-door, that idea just sounds farcical
  • They don't have to, they have the option. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • That option requires a lot of planning, and leaving friends/family potentially. Some people want to leave but it isn't really an option given their circumstances
  • I know the feeling. I wanted to leave the last 8 years but now there's hope.
  • People did. They fled tyranny for places that were founded on the ideals of civil rights. Their children's children have forgotten the brutality and oppression they escaped and so don't respect it, to their end.
  • LOL. Those places that were founded on the ideals of civil rights ignored the civil rights of native the people as the soldiers that carried out the slaughter took those lands by force.
    Those children's children may not know it first hand but most certainly have NOT forgotten it, what on earth are you talking about???
    Those legacies are still with us today. That aside. Privacy is a compromise, it always will be and there will ALWAYS be good arguments for and against government surveillance. Most of the decisions made on this front are truly only able to be judged accurately after the fact.
  • Nope. Not at all with us today. How silly!
  • i never thought the any company is a safety net.... when it goes to governments, they share ore more information than anyone else.. (this includes sharing with other government departments as that doesn't make me feel any safer.. its still sharing...in the end) My parents walked into H&R block to do tax return and was shocked the person says "We don't need al your info, as we have access to all your bank accounts from 6 years ago" Honesty u reckon that is right if the government is to be "trusted" ? Governments share info without your knowledge, its what they do..... but they tell u they must ask you first to make it sound like your safe..
  • I think the point you missed Rene isn't just about the hackers getting hacked but also about setting a precedent.
    We know now that if Apple had written that special software, "for just that one phone " there were at least a dozen other cases, waiting on the sidelines.
    How could Apple or any other company resist after that?
  • I'm an open book and don't care about hiding behind my iPhone in the western world. USA allows burn phones so how about cleaning this up first before hitting on iPhones. I do not and never will just communist countries so please keep us safe from these dirty people.
  • Dirty people? Look in the mirror and let the hate flow through you. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • The question on privacy in any sense is a sensitive one with no real answer. I personally have nothing to hide and if the government wants to go through my phone I don't care. That isn't necessarily the correct answer though! I like small governments and small oversight so the idea of back doors to my data also don't sit well with me. Too much power is still too much power. Hence my first sentence of no real clear answer. When I hear of a new cowardly attack/murder etc, my opinion leans to caring less about my privacy and more to my safety and the safety of my family. However, when things are quiet, all of us can agree that there is no need for any back-doors into our data. I'm still not sure there is a clear line to a clear and right answer. This isn't necessarily a black & white, right or wrong issue. Let's just hope that those in power at Apple/Google/Microsoft and our governments make the right decisions and find some middle ground.
  • You'd be surprised at what you have to hide. Second, it isn't about any one single person. It's about a principle.
  • As i keep saying... Privacy starts and ends with the user.. It always has.. and if people choose to give out info what they want only, then you'll always have privacy... Never 100% privacy, but allot more than most others would.. We are often not concerned with privacy, until it happens to us... Then the tables turn, and all of a sudden, we would have wished our
  • "The biggest story of last year was the FBI trying to force Apple to compromise iOS security by creating a "back door" into iPhone and iPad." I kinda think things like Brexit and the US election were much bigger stories in 2016.
  • I suppose Rene meant it in the context of Apple.
  • There should be no backdoor made available. If the U.S. government can be given access, any other countries' governments can say they should have equal access to the backdoor as well for the security of their state. So if a U.S. spy gets caught in China, should they have means to access this spy's data?
  • The newly elected President of the US felt that Apple was wrong. He even called for a boycott of Apple. Good luck on this fight.
  • If there was a backdoor it would leak within 18 months. It's proven most governments can't keep most things secret cyber wise.. Then someone might be able to reverse engineer iCloud activation lock...