Tim Cook open letter on FBI pressure on Apple

Original author: Tim Cook
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On February 16, 2016, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, published an open letter on apple.com . In it, he accused the FBI of forcing Apple to embed a backdoor (bookmark) in iOS. There are not so many technical details, but the letter is very interesting. I tried to translate it into Russian. I apologize in advance for possible jambs of translation, but I have not written in Russian for a long time.

A serious discussion has already flared up on foreign Internet.

Contacting our users

United States authorities are demanding Apple’s unprecedented steps that threaten the security of our users. We resist this demand, which may have far-reaching consequences that go beyond the scope of litigation.

This situation calls for a public discussion, and we want our users and compatriots to understand what is at stake.

The need for encryption

Smartphones, led by the iPhone, have become an integral part of our lives. People use them to store a huge amount of personal information, from our private correspondence to our photos, music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and medical data, even where we were and where we are going to go.

All this information must be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it and use it without our knowledge and permission. Users expect Apple and other IT companies to do everything in their power to protect users' personal data. And we at Apple consider it our duty to protect their data.

To compromise the security of our personal information means, in the end, to put our personal security at risk. That is why data encryption has become so important for all of us.

Over the years, we have used encryption to protect the personal data of our users, since we believe that this is the only safe way to store information. We ourselves do not even have access to this information, since we believe that the contents of your iPhone are not our business.

Case in San Bernardino

We were shocked and enraged at the San Bernardino terrorist attack last December. We grieve for the loss and want justice for all who have been affected by these events. A few days after the attack, the FBI asked us to help, and we did our best to support the efforts of the authorities to investigate this terrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI requested the data we had, we provided it. Apple always follows court orders and search warrants, including in the case of San Bernardino. Also, we identified Apple engineers who advised the FBI. To the FBI, we offered our best thoughts on a few points in the investigation.

We respect professionals at the FBI very much, and we believe that they have good intentions. Until that moment, we did everything in our power and within the framework of the law to help them. But now the US authorities are asking us about what we simply do not have at the moment, and what we consider too dangerous to create. The authorities asked us to embed a “bookmark” ( “backdoor” in the original text - Approx. Per. ) In the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the operating system for the iPhone, bypassing several important security elements, and install it on the restored iPhone during the investigation. In the wrong hands, software that does not currently exist can unlock any iPhone that has physical access.

The FBI can use various words to describe such a tool, but be sure that creating an iOS version that will bypass security mechanisms will undoubtedly entail the creation of “bookmarks”. And although authorities may argue that using this tool will come down to only once, there is no way to control such use.

Data Security Threat

Some might argue that creating loopholes for one iPhone is a simple and neat solution. But such an argument ignores both the basics of computer security and the significance of what the authorities demand in this case.

With the modern digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is information that unlocks access to data and data is as protected as this key is protected. When a key is known or there is a way around the code, encryption becomes vulnerable to anyone with this knowledge.

Authorities say that this tool will be used once, only on one phone. But this is simply not the case. Once created, it can be used again and again, on any number of devices. In the real world, this is equivalent to a universal key that can open hundreds of millions of locks - from restaurants and banks to shops and houses. No sane person would find this acceptable.

Authorities are asking Apple to crack our own users and cross out decades of security improvements that protect our users, including tens of millions of US citizens, from sophisticated hackers and cyber criminals.

We are not aware of cases where authorities forced an American company to expose its customers to a greater risk of attacks. For many years, cryptologists and security experts have warned against weakening encryption. Such a weakening will only harm benevolent and law-abiding citizens, those who trust companies such as Apple, to protect their data. Criminals and attackers will still use encryption, use the tools that are available to them now.

Dangerous precedent

Instead of legitimizing its actions through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 (a regulation establishing that U.S. courts have the power to issue any order that promotes justice, if the order is consistent with law and law enforcement. - Approx. Lane) to justify the expansion of their powers.

The authorities are trying to force us to remove the security mechanisms and add new features to the operating system that allow us to enter the password programmatically. This will make it easier to unlock the iPhone using brute force (“brute force” in the original text - approx. Per.), Introducing thousands and millions of combinations at the speed of a modern computer.

The possible consequences of this demand from the authorities freeze the blood. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to hack your iPhone, it will allow anyone to enter the iPhone to steal his data. Authorities will be able to further widen the personal security gap and force Apple to embed spyware to intercept your messages, have access to your medical or financial data, monitor your location or even have access to your phone’s microphone and camera without your knowledge.

Confronting this state of affairs is not something we do not take seriously. We believe that we should openly report this abuse of authority by the US government.

We dispute the demands of the FBI with the deepest respect for American democracy and love for our country. We believe that it is in the interest of everyone to stop and think about the possible consequences.

Despite the fact that we believe that the FBI has good intentions, it will be a wrong step for the government to force us to embed “bookmarks” in our products. And ultimately, we are afraid that this requirement
will negatively affect the freedoms and rights that our government must protect.

Tim Cook

In the discussion of this letter, many agree that this is an unequal struggle, and Apple will definitely lose.
There are opinions that Tim Cook is cunning, saying that you can not limit the use of such a backdoor. Since iOS can be signed for a specific device and it will be impossible to put it on another phone.

What do you think, how will it end and is it really such a big deal?


Since the writing of the article, several interesting events have occurred
. Apple has provided answers to some frequently asked questions on this matter.
In short:
Q: Why is Apple opposing a government order?
A: There are two reasons. First, Apple is forced to specifically develop a version of the OS for the authorities, which will allow brute-force passwords. We do not want to consciously weaken the protection of the OS. The second - it will create a legal precedent and the authorities may further ask to modify something else.

Q: Is it technically possible what the authorities are asking for?
A: Yes.

Q: Can Apple make an OS specifically for this phone and make it impossible to use the OS again.
A:(Evasive answer). The digital world is not like the physical one; once you create the OS, it can be endlessly copied. Law enforcement agencies have hundreds of iPhones that they want to unlock, and they are just waiting for the victory of the FBI in this matter.

Q: Did Apple unblock iPhones before this
A: No. We regularly receive requests for help from law enforcement agencies and we have a special team for this. We retrieved court orders from devices older than iOS 8.0. Starting with iOS 8.0, data on the phone is encrypted and we don’t have any sleep-hours just to extract it from the device.

Q: Authorities say that the causes of this conflict lie in the marketing plane.
A:They are wrong. We truly believe that creating a “backdoor” is illegal and will support law-abiding citizens at risk.

Q: Could Apple somehow help the FBI in a different way
? A: We did everything in our power and within the law. We have provided the latest backup with iCloud, but the FBI wants newer data. We advised them to go to the WiFi zone to which the phone was connected earlier, and then we would get a fresh backup. But while the phone was with the FBI, the password for iCloud changed and now it is impossible to do this (from the answer it is not clear whether the FBI changed the password or someone on the side).

Q: What will happen next.
A:We would suggest that the authorities withdraw their order based on the All Writs Act and form a commission of experts from the industry to study the situation.

- In an interview with the Financial Times, Bill Gates supported the FBI in this conflict (the link is not Engadget, because you need a subscription to access the article on FT).

Then he said in an interview with Bloomberg that he was misunderstood ( video )

- the Wall Street Journal reported that authorities had already prepared a dozen non-terrorism phones in case the FBI forced Apple to unlock this phone (Link to The Verge, as WSJ requires a subscription to access the article).

- Wired posted a copy of the FBI claim (thanks a5bper link)


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What do you think will end this conflict?

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