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The Future of Smartphone Security

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After an intense six months of legal back and forth, the FBI has successfully unlocked the iPhone of the San Bernardino gunman’s phone, all without the help of Apple. The conflict between technology companies and the US government has been brewing for some time, but this has been far the most high profile case with Apple resisting the court order issued last month. In a sense this can be seen as a victory for Apple – a company which constantly champions user rights – because they were not forced to spill their secrets. But what does this mean for privacy and security moving forward? One thing is for certain – the battle between national security and individual security is just beginning.

While there is no such thing as perfect security, Apple have been relentless in their quest to build strong security into iPhones purely down to the fact that today people carry so much personal and sensitive information on their phones. Nonetheless, there are new breaches every single week which affect individuals, companies and governments alike. In this case Apple were asked by the FBI to build a functionality which would bypass the four-digit passcode by systematically guessing the code without being locked out.

Apple however resisted and argue that the only way to ensure such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it in the first place. Creating this ‘backdoor’ would mean it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals. In an open letter to the president the Electronic Frontier Foundation said “You can’t build a backdoor into our digital devices that only good guys can use. Just like you can’t put a key under a doormat that only the FBI will ever find”.

Yet a mysterious, unidentified third party has supposedly managed to get passed Apple’s encryption and so potentially this hack can be done on any device. Of course this opens a can of worms because if this third party managed to do it (and so quickly), how long will it take for less desirable sources to have the capabilities to do the same. The FBI are not obligated to give Apple any information on the hack or how they bypassed the encryption so the FBI, along with the unknown third party hackers, hold the power. Apple are the only party capable of amending and securing the software, but they are powerless.

In many people’s opinion Apple have actively impeded the FBI’s investigations. But privacy advocates question what will happen the next time the government tries to force Apple to help break into one of its phones? Will the FBI be able to use the tactic again and again to break into suspect’s phones? Where will the line be drawn? American’s already have ample reason to be concerned about the surveillance opportunities offered by technology and the power the government has to essentially spy. There’s always the possibility that big tech companies are complicit in this spying. Worryingly, the most vulnerable in society who tend to buy cheaper smartphones are the most unguarded and therefore the most likely to be surveilled. Thinking back to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal there is no doubt that more technically advanced hacks will lead to more widespread and devastating consequences. 


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