Current Events: Apple Security vs. the FBI

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If you’ve turned on the news lately, you’ve probably seen the debate being stirred around the Apple vs. the FBI case. But, you may be wondering what all of the fuss is about. Well, simply put, it’s a matter of security vs. privacy and just how far you can push those boundaries without blurring them.

What would you think if the FBI were able to force Samsung to turn on the video camera on your smart TV? What if they could force Google to deliver a “security update” to your Internet browser that’s actually a bug sent to spy on you, transmitting all of your passwords and private information back to the FBI?

All of this sounds like the premise to a Tom Cruise, sci-fi flick, but in fact, this is what’s at stake when it comes to Apple vs. the FBI. If Apple loses its fight with the US government, these sci-fi scenarios could become reality, threatening the security of all Internet users.

Until recently, consumers ignored those nagging software updates that would pop up on their computer screens. Yes, those constant download reminders are a bit of an annoyance, but they are actually necessary when it comes to maintaining security within your system. Many, still, often just ignore them or don’t click on the updates until their current software has already timed out, leaving their systems with insecure software that makes them unnecessarily susceptible to cyber-attacks and viruses.

Now, much of the software industry has shifted to a model of automatic updates, thus ridding many computer systems of those constant download reminders. Their goal is to make sure that as many consumers and businesses as possible are promptly updated with the proper security software. As a result, all of our smart devices, such as our phones, computers, TVs, and anything else that is able to connect to the Internet, now make regular connections with their makers looking for updates. Those updates are then automatically downloaded or installed.

Though this transition to automatic updates has greatly improved the state of cyber security, the fact is, your device is doing so quietly and often without your knowledge or consent. Because a machine is able to deliver software onto phones and computers so discretely, this ability can easily be misused by anyone, including criminals and hackers. It is for this reason that tech companies have built-in security features, known as “code signing.” Code signing allows companies to authenticate software updates; without this digital signature, an update cannot be installed (i.e. only Apple can issue updates for iOS, only Microsoft can deliver updates for Word, etc.).

So, how does this play into the Apple vs. the FBI case? Well, after the San Bernardino shooting in December, the public learned that the Department of Justice sought and obtained a court order forcing Apple to help it hack into the iPhone of one of the shooters. Apple was ordered to create a special version of their iOS operating system that would bypass many of the security features built into the company’s operating system as well as sign the software (because again, without this digital signature’s authentication, the iPhone would refuse to run it).

This is where things get messy. If the government is able to force Apple to sign code for them, it sets a scary precedent that could allow the government to force other technology companies to sign surveillance software that can be used to put into the devices of individual users, simply by using the automatic updates systems that our devices regularly look for and download. The saying, “big brother is watching you,” would take on a whole new level of meaning.

If this happens, and consumers come to fear that their devices are being updated with surveillance software from the FBI, many will likely just disable any automatic updates. Think of computer security like public health – software updates are like immunizations for computers. Just as you get regular checkups from your doctor to prevent the risk of disease, you want your computer system to get regular updates to prevent the risk of hacking. Disabling this feature is potentially hazardous to the security of all devices, not just the one that is not being updated.

The fact is, Americans have placed their trust in software companies, and that trust is far too important to risk just so the government has an easier time spying on its citizens. If a ruling falls in favor of the government, it will set a precedent, not just for Apple but for all “smart” devices in this digital age. Just think about all that that entails – the Internet, your television, phones, computers, cameras, cars, and even your thermostats!

If you have questions about the use of digital evidence in your criminal case, contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 265-7766 for a case consultation. As always, if you found this article helpful and informative, share it with a friend!

Disclaimer: This blog is intended for general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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