Saturday, February 20, 2016

Apple's encryption war with the FBI

The past week has mostly been about the inevitable leaks of Samsung and LG's upcoming flagship devices which looks to be a tight battle between the two Android giants. But in the more general (non-tech) debate that has come up over the week is that Tim Cook, Apple CEO publically announces that they are vetoing the federal magistrate's order to assist the FBI in de-crypting the data on Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone 5C. Farook was one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino shooters which killed 14 people and seriously injure 22 people in last December.

The San Bernardino attack is believed to be the worst terrorist attack to occur in America since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. And this is why the FBI is persistent in finding the motive behind the attack in California. Now this is where the debate with Apple comes up, the two terrorists involved in the shooting was killed during pursuit and one of the current leads as to motive behind the attacks now lies in an iPhone 5C which has a passcode on it.
My thoughts on the iPhone 5C, do users really want a colorful iPhone ?"the iPhone 5C Is Apple’s iPhone aimed towards users which don’t have too much money to fork out for an iPhone. The device comes in 5 colors and is not exactly that colorful like what the rumors stated. The iPhone 5C is powered by hardware which is about 1 year old now or if you put it in a better sounding way it works like an iPhone 5 but doesn’t look like one." Continue reading.
Apple has been a great advocate of security (and encryption) since the early days and Tim Cook says that this incident is no exception for Apple to do away from their beliefs that customers should have the right to know that their data is secure. The FBI says that Apple's rejection to the court's order is causing a stalling the entire investigation. Prior to this event, the FBI has always tried to persuade American tech companies to provide the bureau with a "backdoor" that allows them to access data from a service/device. But companies argued that if such a encryption key is given out to the FBI, that would essentially get rid of the idea behind securing data that is inaccessible to anyone but the owner.

Decrypting Encryption

To fully understand the argument that is being debated across the internet and between the tech companies, you will first need to understand the idea of encryption. If you already get what encryption is all about, you’re good to go, but if you just know encryption as a safety feature, take a few minutes to watch the video below to familiarize yourself with the logic behind encrypting data. Encryption itself isn’t the bi-product of the evolution of technology but rather, the method behind safely sending data to another person started way back in the early days of mankind.



But essentially, encryption is used to secretly transmit a message, picture or anything in general safely to the person you want to send to. This is why encryption is so important today because the internet is available everywhere and hackers are constantly trying to mine all those encrypted data to get into your personal information. So, you better hope that hackers don't get into your personal data so you should thank encryption.

In case you are interested in learning more about learning how you could encrypt your own data, here's an online course by Khan Academy which teaches you the history, methods and idea behind cryptography so you can encrypt and decrypt your own data.

FBI's side of the story

It has been two months since the deadly shooting took place and the FBI is currently investigating the matter and the most prominent lead they have into the investigation lies in an iPhone 5C that is locked. What the FBI wants is pretty simple actually, they just want access to the encrypted data stored in the iPhone and that is why they have requested a warrant by the magistrate judge to request Apple to decrypt the phone itself. It is true that the FBI is able to just hack into the iPhone 5C without the help of Apple but that option will require more resources and time.

Tim Cook's message about the matter

Ever since the court order went public earlier this week, it was revealed that Apple has been in-talks with the government for a couple of weeks already about the methods that can be used to recover the data from the encrypted iPhone 5C. The discussions by Apple however, never once involved Apple to build a custom version of iOS which enables the government to access data on the phone.

The twist of this matter comes when Apple reveals that the Apple ID password associated with the terrorist's iPhone 5C was modified when it was in government custody. According to an Apple executive, this essentially means that the backup that was made by that device is no longer accessible.

So, the story continues with the FBI now requesting Apple for not only a decryption key into the iPhone 5C, but they are turning their request into making Apple create a special version of iOS that does not feature the advanced encryption features that iOS possess. This essentially enables the bureau to load that specific version of iOS onto the iPhone 5C and accessing the data store on the device.

This sounds pretty straight forward but the implications of this goes back to the original reason why Apple is going against the court's order. By creating this custom version of iOS, Tim Cook says they are basically providing the federal government with access to other encrypted devices in the same manner by side loading this version of iOS.

Shortly after the judge's order for Apple to provide a backdoor for the iPhone 5C, Tim Cook announced via an official statement on the Apple site that the company stands before it's users/customers by not complying with the FBI's court order to create "backdoor" into the iPhone 5C.
"The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.
The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe."
Read the full letter here

Tim Cook's fan backing

What happens after this is still yet to be known as the story develops. But even if the the FBI or Apple descidely decrypts the phone, there is not truth behind what they will find in the phone itself as the bureau has already seized some of the terrorist's personal devices.

Personally, I think that what Tim Cook and Apple is standing up for is definitely for the better of the customer. It might not do justice to those harmed in the terrorists attack but it is a relatively good news for Apple users. And if you were wondering why Apple can't access an encrypted device that they designed, Apple actually removed the ability on iOS to access encrypted data and that essentially means that if you don't have access to that iOS device, Apple isn't able to help you decrypt that data. By decrypting that, Apple is essentially breaking their own encryption code. So, in the mean time, check out the support that Tim Cook has behind his decision.
http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/ - I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple's efforts to...
Posted by Jan Koum on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Insider Talk

Back from a week of missing out the article deadline and this wasn't the article that I was planning to write about this week. That article in particular still needs some extra research before being published so I am pushing that back for the time being. Never written something like this before and this is a first for me and I hope to write more of these kind of articles as it does reflect the current state of technology.