Apple's fight with FBI the latest in privacy vs....
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Feb 17, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Apple's fight with FBI the latest in privacy vs. security battle

Apple CEO Tim Cook said breaking the company's encryption would essentially make a "master key," putting the privacy of millions at risk


Apple Inc. is on the front line of the latest battle in the war for your digital information.

The company, which controls almost 40 per cent of the Canadian smartphone market, has refused to help the FBI to unlock a phone belonging to a deceased shooter from December’s attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

The request came from U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, who ordered Apple to create new software to bypass the built-in security features that make it impossible for law enforcement to break into the phone.

“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,” wrote CEO Tim Cook in a response posted on the company’s website on Monday.

Cook said breaking the encryption software would essentially create a “master key” that could potentially jeopardize the privacy of millions of customers.

Apple has long frustrated law enforcement with its virtually unbreakable iOS encryption, which it says makes it impossible for anyone — including the company itself — to access a device without a password.

While the latest computer-generated encryption breakers can try thousands of passwords in seconds, Apple devices have a built-in self-destruct mode that deletes data after too many attempts.

Apple has repeatedly told courts that it cannot reply with court orders to produce records because it cannot access the information itself. Pym’s order takes it a step farther, asking that the company create a way to break its own security.

In September, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Department of Justice was considering legal action against Apple. The department is currently fighting Microsoft in court over the company’s refusal to turn over customer information that may be pertinent to a drug trafficking case.

Worldwide, law enforcement agencies are increasingly going after suspects’ digital footprints. But sophisticated encryption techniques are throwing them off. A Toronto Star investigation in November revealed that Canadian police struggle to go after sex offenders because many criminals use encryption software to keep their online activities hidde.

However, not all mobile devices can keep out law enforcement. In January, Dutch police told Vice site Motherboard that they had broken the encryption on BlackBerry PGP devices — mobile phones that have an extra layer of built-in privacy protection.

In 2014, the RCMP confirmed they were able to intercept BlackBerry PIN messages, which led to one of the biggest Mafia busts in Canadian history. The messaging system uses encryption, but had a known loophole because all devices used the same global cryptographic “key.”

Toronto Star

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