A Californian court yesterday ordered Apple to provide the FBI with a custom version of iOS that would circumvent security measures and allow the FBI to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Just a short time ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter on Apple’s website. In his letter to customers, Cook explains why Apple opposes the order and warns of the implications should Apple be forced to do what has been ordered. Cook calls for “public discussion” of the issue and notes that “we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake”.
Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
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. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
This is Apple at its best. Using its stature to cogently make the case for better public policy – in this case the need for encryption and standing strong against any attempt to undermine it. I would highly encourage you to read Cook’s entire letter.
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.
We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.