FBI Wants into our iPhones, so Apple is Making Them More Secure

Apple is already working on new ways to improve iPhone and iCloud encryption that would make government demands for tools to hack into our personal data worthless. Currently, the FBI is trying to force Apple to create a passcode hackable version of iOS, and that very likely was the incentive to accelerate security improvement efforts.

Apple working to make iOS, iCloud even more secureApple working to make iOS, iCloud even more secure

Sources speaking with the New York Times said Apple is working on ways to make the passcode hack impossible. Sources talking with the Financial Times said Apple is developing new security features to block its own ability to recover data from iCloud accounts, too.

The FBI enlisted Apple's help with recovering data from the iPhone in Syed Rizwan Farook's possession when he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement last December. Mr. Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were both killed after opening fire on their San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers. They killed 14 people and injured 22 others before their shootout with police.

Mr. Farook's work issued iPhone was password protected, and the county didn't have any way to reset the code and unlock the device. Apple helped the FBI recover data through the iPhone's iCloud backup but couldn't help with bypassing the device's passcode, so the FBI turned to the courts for an order compelling the company to create an iOS version that circumvents the security measures designed to prevent brute force passcode attacks.

Apple CEO Tim Cook called the court order an overreach of government authority and a dangerous precedent that would undermine privacy and security. He said Apple would fight the order, and the company has retained well known freedom of speech legal experts Theodore Olson and Theodore Boutrous to mount a legal defense.

The stronger security features Apple is working on now would cut out the possibility of coding special iOS versions that sidestep passcode hacking protections, and would block Apple from being able to access any data from our iCloud accounts. Part of those security enhancements would lock Apple out of iCloud encryption keys, which could limit the company's ability to reset passcodes for users who forget theirs.

News of Apple's device security plans followed an ABC News interview where Mr. Cook condemned the FBI's court order. He called the government's push to force his company to create a less secure iPhone operating system "the software equivalent of cancer."

Mr. Cook was alluding to concerns that once the weaker iOS version is created, other law enforcement agencies, governments, and hackers would want access to it, as well. Should the court order stand, it also sets a precedent where other companies could be forced to create hackable code for their devices, too.

In its efforts to get a passcode hackable version of iOS, the FBI seems to have motivated Apple into creating more secure devices and services faster than they otherwise would have. Instead of easier access to the encrypted contents of our iPhones, the FBI is about to have even less than they have now.

Our government could still pass legislation that requires device makers to build security weaknesses into their products, or even include backdoors for surveillance. Despite law maker arguments to the contrary, those weaknesses would be available to everyone and our personal data security would be lost.

Mr. Cook says the way to avoid that problem is to not go down that path. "There are many things technology should never be allowed to do," he said. "The way you do not allow it, is to not create it."

Making your operating systems even less hackable doesn't hurt, either.

[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]