Welcome to the second part of my conversation on security in our modern times. In my last article, I concluded with a mention of the US government’s court order compelling Apple to develop a solution bypassing the security on the San Bernardino terrorists’ phone.
I had the opportunity to watch some of the Congressional hearings on this matter and saw both Apple and the FBI present their arguments. During its argument, the FBI said something specific that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up: that this particular case would be used as a precedent for other court cases that come along in the future.
Logic would dictate that since the perpetrators deleted the data on their personal computers and destroyed their pay-as-you go burner phones, the fact that they left their work-issued iPhone intact probably means they weren’t concerned about any data on it. The Justice Department has admitted as much, but that did not stop or slow down its quest to force Apple to hack the device. John McAfee, the founder and creator of the first commercial antivirus software, offered his services to the FBI to hack it without Apple’s needing to get involved. However, it appears the Justice Department’s main objective was to force Apple’s compliance and establish a precedent for requiring companies to provide a back door the government can use at its own discretion.
I believe that the more back doors are forced into products and technologies, the less secure those products and technologies will be. There is no way that a back door could remain secret, and it would be just be a matter of time before one would be exploited. The mere fact that the governments of the world are considering mandatory back doors or universal keys to encryption technology demonstrates their power. It also shows that they have no effective understanding of the technology or of the Pandora’s Box they will open. If encryption technologies become compromised, everything in the digital world becomes compromised.
Think about that alone for a second. Now think about how much important information exists online. Most medical records are stored online. Most financial transactions are performed online. There are even discussions going on about abolishing physical currencies and switching to completely digital ones. We, the people of the world, have watched the transformation and migration as just about any and all information has become stored in the digital world. Deliberately creating a flaw in the technology that is used to secure our data is just downright frightening.
The ramifications of the case involving Apple and the Justice Department are not limited to this one specific case. This is a battle about security, privacy, and the protection of all the digital data concerning almost everything and everyone. There has been story after story about companies being breached and personal and financial information being stolen. If there are this many stories now, what would it be like if government-mandated back doors were developed, discovered, and proliferated to all? To be clear, proliferation would not be a matter of if, but of when.
Since the time of the above writing, the US government has withdrawn its court order against Apple, because the Justice Department has achieved its goal of opening the device without Apple’s assistance. I am not sure if it was the government or a third party that opened the device, but since Apple was not involved, this issue is now moot. Nevertheless, I fear it is just a matter of time before the Justice Department will need assistance again, and I truly hope it doesn’t attempt to force a company to break its own product’s security for that assistance. From there, it’s only a few steps to the mandated creation of back doors that will make everything less secure for all.