In February, we posted a blog article on the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against Apple in an effort to force Apple to unlock one of the San Bernardino attacker’s iPhone 6. Apple’s newest software prevents unauthorized users from gaining access to the content of an individual’s phone without the right password using a sophisticated encryption system. The legal battle came to an end when the DOJ announced a third party had come forward with an offer to hack the phone. The DOJ dropped their lawsuit, and the iPhone was successfully hacked.
Even though the legal drama has ended, a central question remained: what, if any, useful information did Apple gather from the attacker’s phone? The attackers had destroyed several other mobile devices, so many critics questioned the possibility the couple would have left sensitive material on phone left intact. This week the F.B.I.’s general counsel told a group of privacy professionals that data had been collected and was being used. However, the attorney would not say whether the information obtained was useful or if the contents would ever be made public. Privacy advocates fear Apple’s encryption methods may now be vulnerable, in that, if the federal government can hack into the iPhone what about foreign governments and hackers?
The Update on an Update… Consumer Data Protection
Last year, we wrote about new efforts to protect consumer data from hackers. WhatsApp, the messaging app owned by Facebook, had begun using an encryption system designed to protect its users messages. Earlier this week, WhatsApp announced its services are now fully encrypted. Known as “end-to-end encryption”, the new system will ensure that only the sender and recipient can read any message sent using the app. The encryption will be applied to photos, videos and group messages. Only one-to-one text messages were encrypted with the previous method. WhatsApp explained that they are trying to protect sensitive records from being stolen in an age where more and more of people’s digital information will be vulnerable to attack.
Law enforcement have their own concerns about the new encryption system. End-to-end encryption will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement authorities to intercept users’ communications for investigations. WhatsApp’s use of the encryption method is particularly troubling to authorities due to the services large, international subscriber base.