Apple explains why the iOS 10 kernel was left unencrypted

Apple explains why the iOS 10 kernel was left unencrypted
With the release of the first developer beta of iOS 10 began a frantic code mining rush to uncover every secret of the new version of the popular operating system. Tinkerers stumbled upon some interesting things, such as a hidden Dark Mode in the Message and Settings apps and most recently, that the iOS 10 kernel is completely unencrypted. The latter, of course, was worrisome for many, as nobody knew why the kernel was left like that and whether it was intentional or not. Now, amidst the wave of concerns, Apple has stepped up to explain why this decision was made.

Speaking to TechCrunch, an Apple spokesperson revealed that the kernel of the iOS 10 developer beta was left unencrypted simply because user information wasn't being exposed and an unencrypted system runs smoother.

“The kernel cache doesn’t contain any user info, and by unencrypting it we’re able to optimize the operating system’s performance without compromising security,” the Apple spokesperson said.

A move like this is so untypical of Apple, that many security experts speculated that it might simply be a mistake, though such a glaring oversight would be even more untypical. Turns out, Apple might be shifting toward greater transparency with this move. The lack of encryption in the case of the developer beta does not equal less security. In fact, in the long run, it could mean the exact opposite.

Opening up the kernel like that would allow for security-conscious tinkerers and researchers to find potential weaknesses in the code early on in development which could make patching them easier in time for the final product. This makes even more sense in the light of what transpired earlier this year, with Apple resisting a court order to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter which the FBI was able to do anyway, thanks to an exploit, allegedly provided to the FBI by Israeli company Cellebrite for some $15 000.

Whether this will pay off for Apple in the end remains to be seen. The company is notorious with its secrecy and such a move is a pleasant surprise for many. If flaws in beta versions of iOS 10 are widely revealed before the final release, this will shrink the black market for exploits and hacks significantly and would mean a more secure experience in the end.

source: TechCrunch



1. DaftPunk

Posts: 31; Member since: Apr 24, 2014

Nice move.


Posts: 2817; Member since: Oct 03, 2012

Just a backdoor for the feds!

8. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2389; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

I don't see how this could be a backdoor for the feds considering the following: 1. It's a beta release of an upcoming OS and not one widely in use. 2. It only gives access to the kernel itself, not the source code or nor even the binaries. 3. It allows users everywhere to figure out if there are security flaws and to report them thus diminishing the usage of third party markets (like the Israel company that scored millions of dollars from the govt to unlock Farook's iPhone) from capitalizing off of Apple refusing to unlock a phone. 4. User data, especially iMessages, is encrypted. So, even if you could access the phone through the kernel, I can't see how you would be able to access this information?

11. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

1. Moot point. iOS is a major mobile OS and once finalized will be on a lot of devices. iOS 10 beta is available for download now in the internet to anyone who takes the time to look for it, not just developers. That includes both white hat and black hat code crackers. 2. OMFG! It's the kernel. It's... here, I don't even have the time: And do you know even know what the difference between object code (binaries) and source code is? If the kernel is not encrypted, they pretty much have the source code and binaries.;_ylt=AwrTceNtYGxX7WsAbpQPxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTByNWU4cGh1BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?qid=20080626023516AAyw1DH&p=object%20code%20vs%20source%20code 3. It's a gamble. Will good guys or bad guys stumble upon the exploitable executable? And millions? What happened to $15,000? 4. See response to #1. It's the kernel. It determines what programs run, when they run, how they run, where they're running, and whom they're running for. So the iMessage stays encrpyted... who's to say it doesn't get corrupted making it undeliverable (sometimes hackers are just in it for the fun and like messing with people), or who's to say a copy of the encrypted iMessage isn't offloaded elsewhere so a hacker can attempt to break the encryption at their leisure. Granted, that's all worst case stuff, but this is a big change for Apple with big ramifications. They've always been closed off before, so if they were going to unencrypt the kernel, it should have been with white hats and lawyered up with NDA's... or, just take iOS the open source route. BBC News didn't do a bad article when the story first broke.

3. darkkjedii

Posts: 31104; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Hurry up with that second beta, let's see more goodies.

7. xperian

Posts: 418; Member since: Apr 10, 2014

Better take their time to fix problems, rushing is never good

4. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3108; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

Preventing another Farook fiasco.

12. deviceguy2016

Posts: 826; Member since: Jun 16, 2016

Exactly great post!!

5. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Apple wants the umbrella of the Gov't protection from lawsuits. Sorry Apple, it's too late! After what Obama did for you, you should have been eager to help the DOJ. NOW YOU'RE GONNA both ways.

9. Well-Manicured-Man

Posts: 696; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

ROFL. iOS is the most secure mobile OS that is widely used in the market. If it is true that no user data is stored in the kernel, who cares about encryption.

6. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Leave it open so good researcher will find exploit and keep them hidden and then use them on final product. Including governements ofcourse.


Posts: 652; Member since: Jun 28, 2014

Apple's explanation is dubious at best. I highly doubt they really meant for this to happen, otherwise it should've been mentioned at WWDC as another user commented on the first article.

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