If the FBI was hoping Apple CEO Tim Cook was all talk when he said his company is digging in its heels to protect user privacy, it's time to put on the disappointed face because Jon Callas is back on Apple's payroll. His credentials in the security and privacy world make him a strong asset for Apple—just as he was when he previously worked for the company—and should have the FBI very worried about how far it'll be able to hack into future iPhones and Macs.
Jon Callas brings his security expertise back to Apple
Mr. Callas rejoined Apple in May, according to Reuters, although the company isn't saying which projects he'll be working on. Considering his history and skills, it's a safe bet it'll be security and encryption-related.
His job history includes working for Apple in the 1990s, and again between 2009 and 2011 where he was instrumental in developing FileVault full disk encryption for OS X. He also co-founded PGP Corp as well as Silent Circle and its Blackphone, all of which are encryption and privacy-related companies.
Mr. Callas thinks the government shouldn't be able to force companies to create tools to hack into their own products, which fits nicely with Apple's philosophy and goes against what the FBI and Department of Justice have been pushing for. News of his hiring comes in the wake of a very public fight between the FBI and Apple over that very topic.
The FBI enlisted Apple's help at the beginning of the year to extract data from an iPhone recovered from Syed Farook, who was one of the people involved in last December's mass shooting in San Bernardino. Mr. Farook, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 of their county coworkers and injured 22 more. The two died later in the day in a shootout with police.
Apple gave the FBI everything they had access to, but couldn't help when asked to unlock the device so investigators could look at the iPhone's encrypted contents. The FBI then turned to the courts for an order compelling Apple to create a hackable version of iOS so they could work around the protections preventing passcode brute force attacks.
Apple contested the order saying it posed a serious risk to encryption and privacy, and also said the government didn't have the authority to force companies to make hacking tools to defeat device encryption. The FBI eventually dropped its fight after finding a third party that was able to hack into the device. So far, the FBI isn't sharing the hack with Apple even though it's now a proven zero-day exploit.
The fight raised awareness to the importance of encryption and preventing governments from forcing companies to create back doors into their products for surveillance and government investigations. The FBI and DOJ are continuing to push for that access, while Apple is continually working to strengthen the encryption and security features in its products.
This isn't the first security related hire for Apple since its standoff with the FBI. George Stathakopoulos joined the company in March and is tasked with protecting customer and corporate data, and it's a safe bet other experts have come on board to help shore up iOS and OS X security.
Apple clearly is digging in its heels, just as Mr. Cook said. That's good news for customers who value their privacy and digital security, but for the FBI that means maybe it's time to remember criminal investigations involve more than looking at computer screens.