Skip to main content

Apple is working to make future iPhones even harder to break into

Apple is working to make future iPhones even harder to break into

Share this story

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple is reportedly hard at work on closing the loophole that would allow the company to aid the FBI in breaking into an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter. Company executives alluded to the plan to expand iPhone security in interviews with the media on Friday, and now The New York Times says the company has been working on making the iPhone impossible to crack since even before the attack that took place last December.

At the heart of the issue is a troubleshooting feature that allows Apple to install new firmware on an iPhone to upgrade its operating system to a newer version without having to input a user's passcode. The feature, designed to make it easier to repair malfunctioning devices, means the FBI can demand Apple develop an alternate version of iOS for the iPhone 5c of Syed Farook. That custom software, made to the government's specifications, would strip away the security measures preventing the FBI from breaking into Farook's device by using computer to input millions of potential passcodes.

Apple is working to make the iPhone completely impenetrable

If the company succeeds in removing the troubleshooting feature — which security experts suggest is very likely, according to the NYT — the iPhone could become impossible to break into even with Apple's full and unfettered assistance. That may set up future legal battles and increase the pressure on legislators to rule one way or another on whether companies like Apple, which are not bound by the same wiretapping laws as telecom companies, can be forced to aid the government in such cases.

Apple's main cause of concern here is the FBI and even foreign governments using a backdoor into the iPhone as a tool in future cases, undermining user security worldwide and harming its brand in the process. Court documents show the government has asked Apple to help it break into 13 other devices around the country in similar but separate cases. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The fight between Apple and the US government over the security of the iPhone and the privacy of its users has expanded into the one of the most complex and important encryption issues to date. Apple CEO Tim Cook has become the public face of the fight, writing a defense of his company's decision to defy the court order on Apple's website and telling ABC World News Tonight that his company considers a backdoor into the iPhone "the software equivalent of cancer." While public polls remain divided on whether the public supports Apple or the US government in the fight, the company is said to be working on pushing the case to Congress where it may have more sway in the final decision.