Samir’s Selection 02/28/2016 (p.m.)

  • tags: Apple dataprotection privacy secrecy FBI USsecurity terrorism controversy law freeexpression encryption backdoor internet technology software hardware policy publicpolicy decapping forwardsecrecy

    • For Mr Cook to choose the Farook case as the line he will not cross seems, on the face of things, baffling. The phone is government property (Farook was a public employee). The FBI wants help unlocking it because it may contain information on the motives or contacts of a dead terrorist. What could be more reasonable? But for Apple, and those security advocates who think the firm is right to defy the government, it is not reasonable at all. Far from being a one-off, they suspect the FBI’s case has been chosen carefully, in order to set a legal precedent that would let policemen and spies break into computers much more easily—and would do so in a way that undermines everyone’s security.
    • Crucially, both restrictions—the time between attempts, and the wipe after ten failed tries—can, unlike the encryption itself, be circumvented. That is because they are enforced by the phone’s operating system, iOS, and operating systems can be changed. Apple does so regularly, issuing updates that add features and fix bugs. The FBI is, in essence, asking for just such an update, bespoke to the phone in question, that would remove the extra security features so that they can brute-force it quickly.
    • In theory the bureau could write such an update itself. But it could not use it without Apple’s help because, precisely to stop such attacks, iPhones will accept an update only if they can be convinced, via a special, cryptographically signed certificate, that it comes from Apple. Only Apple possesses the long, randomly generated number used as the key to that process.
    • The FBI has insisted its request is a one-off, and that once the software has done its job Apple can delete it. But many security experts are sceptical: they do not believe that looking inside Farook’s phone is the bureau’s only motive. “They almost certainly won’t find anything of interest on the phone,” opines Nicholas Weaver, a computer-security researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. He points out that Farook and his wife took the trouble to destroy two other phones and a laptop, while leaving the iPhone—which belonged to Farook’s employer—intact. (On the other hand, Farook did disable the phone’s online backup feature, data from which the FBI would have access to—a few weeks before his rampage.)


      Dr Weaver and people like him think the FBI has pushed the case specifically because it is hard, from a public-relations point of view, for Apple to be seen to be refusing to co-operate. They worry that if Apple agrees to build such a system once, it will find similar requests impossible to refuse in future—an argument that was bolstered when it emerged that the Justice Department was demanding Apple’s help in at least nine similar cases (in seven of those, the firm is resisting). Some fret that the FBI might even require the firm to start sending subverted code to specific suspects over the air, using the technology it employs to distribute legitimate updates.

    • Viewed narrowly, that might be no bad thing. The FBI has argued many times that encryption can thwart legitimate investigations, leaving vital clues undiscovered. But security researchers point out that what works for the good guys works for the bad guys, too. If a subverted operating system managed to escape into the “wild” even once, then the security of every iPhone would be put at risk. The trade-off, says Kenneth White, a director of the Open Crypto Audit Project, an American charity, is not security versus privacy, but security for everyone versus the police’s ability to investigate specific crimes. And the risk of a leak would rise with every extra person who had access to the nobbled code: defence lawyers demanding to see it; court-appointed experts given the job of checking it works as intended; and so on.
    • A second argument against collaboration points out that Apple has governments besides America’s that it must answer to. Deliberately compromising its security for the Americans, says Mr White, will encourage other countries to make similar, perhaps even broader, demands for access. Having conceded the point once, Apple will find it hard to resist in future. In countries less concerned with civil liberties and the rule of law, that could have serious consequences.
    • the Secure Enclave
    • Even then, a determined policeman has options. It is possible, with expensive equipment and a good deal of skill, to recover cryptographic keys from hardware by poking around physically in the transistors and wiring of the chip itself. Decapping, as this process is known (the first step is to remove the chip’s protective plastic cap) is the stuff of intelligence agencies and a few dedicated laboratories, and carries a risk of destroying the chip for no gain. But, if access were thought crucial, and there were no other options, it is possible to do it.
    • forward secrecy
    • It will be left to the courts to decide the right approach in this particular case. But the fight between Apple and the FBI raises very big questions. To answer them will ultimately require the intervention of elected politicians.
  • If we want a simple moral rule to take through the centuries it might be – see who’s helpless, and help them. That always looks good in retrospect. Meanwhile, moral curiosity needs to separate itself from moral hysteria, and even as we condemn our moral ancestors, we need to hold our ears to the wind, and listen for the faint sounds of our descendants telling their melancholy truths about us.

    tags: AdamGopnik philosophy ethics morality animal education schooling sexuality power humanrights civilrights hypocrisy

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


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