Why does Apple need encryption? John Oliver explains


In the past few weeks, an unlikely topic has become the number one discussion in the media: encryption. 

The US Department of Justice has requested Apple to crack open the iPhone of Syed Farook, the San Bernardino shooter who killed 14 people and seriously injured 22 others. 

The problem with this request is that it is akin to requesting Apple to write a code that breaks its whole system on hundreds of millions of devices, and there is no guarantee that even if Apple is forced to write this code that does not currently exist, it won't be stolen by malicious hackers. And if it is stolen, that would mean malicious hackers can break into any of the hundreds of millions of iPhones out there.

So how does one make sense of this tricky situation? We have done our fair share of reporting and explaining the technical side of the Apple encryption debate, but if you're looking for a humorous take on the whole situation, Last Week Tonight's John Oliver does a brilliant job explaining why it is extremely dangerous to public safety if the Government forces Apple to write code that can break the security of not just one, but all iPhones.

Story timeline

FEATURED VIDEO

22 Comments

1. Adreno

Posts: 755; Member since: Mar 12, 2016

The whole of this Apple encryption topic is driving me nuts already.

2. Jackdaw

Posts: 66; Member since: Mar 10, 2016

In a scenario where Apple could recover the data I don't know why is it difficult to isolate and do it with one phone. Why don't they use a room with no connection to the Internet or any other network whatsoever. Just one computer and the guy's phone and one trusted guy who will recover the data. Then burn everything. Everyone is happy and crackers won't get it.

4. greyarea

Posts: 267; Member since: Aug 14, 2015

To begin with this is not a one person job. Software needs to be created and the amount of time it will take is beyond a one person job, no matter how talented. You'd also want to have more than just one person with a target on their back afterward in any case. Then there's the precedence that's still been set. Plenty more phones behind this one. Plenty more holes to put into encryption as well since the other mobile OS's and individual apps will be next in line. This is all still assuming a high level of risk. Risk that people familiar with the matter on a technical level say is too high. You're not the only one who thinks there should be more simple solutions, but unfortunately this is one of those complicated ones and that's why there's a fuss going on.

5. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

because common logic of how to handle custom code is out the window. They could have a deconnected machine in a single room unlocking devices that has zero access to the outside world with one person access...perhaps tim cook himself. But no they make it seem like they are so incompetent that if they make an OS a hacker will get it somehow. Meaning, Apple's own campus security is s**t.

16. greyarea

Posts: 267; Member since: Aug 14, 2015

covered that above you already.

18. Reluctant_Human

Posts: 913; Member since: Jun 28, 2012

It was in prior releases of IOS and still is with older phones. The problem comes with the introduction of the fingerprint scanner which added an added chip for local security. Therefore, it can take years to input the password using an automated effort because there's a lag in between failed attempts or the device wiping itself. What I don't get is why Apple can't just reset the password remotely through icloud while connected to the internet (or simulated public network in a lab). Unless this method isn't valid it seems to me that the FBI is merely trying to scare people into supporting something insane because it involves terrorism, Much like how we overreacted and let the Patriot Act pass.

20. greyarea

Posts: 267; Member since: Aug 14, 2015

I have to admit I didn't actually see the video in the article when I first posted since I was waiting to watch the whole show later on. Now that I have I'm wondering why I still need to explain what the video already did. I try to be patient knowing everyone doesn't necessarily have the technical background and that it shouldn't stop people from sharing their opinion. But this late in the game it's getting frustrating that people aren't getting any further educated than their hunches about how things should be possible. Last Week Tonight did a pretty good job boiling it down into a short, educational and entertaining piece and people are asking questions back at square 1. Maybe I'm ignoring blind apple hate, or people just aren't willing to get past their gut to educate themselves further up the body. You're welcome.

23. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

You've never actually explained anything, nor even cited sources... You know, since you seem to request them of others. Your statements in post #4 are anecdotal and based on opinion, and yet in post #15 call people out on their hunches. As you've already stated you're not familiar with how Apple has implemented their encryption, so you can't really know what they are and are not capable of. You too are just going with your gut, aka hunches.

24. greyarea

Posts: 267; Member since: Aug 14, 2015

The only person I've asked sources from was you and I'm still waiting. Although since you seem to be well aware I've asked for those and you haven't provided anything I guess I should stop waiting. My posts are obviously some opinion, but based on information from the security/legal/ios engineer community. Information I've taken away from personal conversations and news sources. I haven't bothered adding sources, since no ones asked, including you. Bruce Schneiers one of the defacto crypto guys out there and does a decent job gathering sources to his blog posts. https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/02/judge_demands_t.html https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/02/decrypting_an_i.html https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/02/the_importance_.html https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/03/lots_more_writi.html Each one has numerous links to other various sources/opinions outside of his own. As for my posts Me: "This is not a one person job. Software needs to be created and the amount of time it will take is beyond a one person job, no matter how talented" News: The effort would take "six to ten Apple engineers and employees dedicating a very substantial portion of their time," Apple said in a court filing. Me: "Then there's the precedence that's still been set. Plenty more phones behind this one.Plenty more holes to put into encryption as well since the other mobile OS's and individual apps will be next in line." News: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance says he wants Apple’s help in unlocking nearly 200 iPhones linked to criminal investigations. Messaging service WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook and has encrypted messages between its Android users for the past two years, is the next tech firm to be drawn into the widening battle between U.S. law enforcement and Silicon Valley over encryption. The Justice Department is demanding Apple’s help in unlocking at least nine iPhones nationwide in addition to the phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., attackers.

25. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

There we go... that's more like it. Now how about this from an Apple security expert, Dan Guido. He happens to be quoted by Bruce Schneier in the Decrytping an iPhone link you provided above. However, the quote is only cherry-picked information. This article provides the full context:https://blog.trailofbits.com/author/dguido/ Ending with... "I believe it is technically feasible for Apple to comply with all of the FBI’s requests in this case. On the iPhone 5C, the passcode delay and device erasure are implemented in software and Apple can add support for peripheral devices that facilitate PIN code entry. In order to limit the risk of abuse, Apple can lock the customized version of iOS to only work on the specific recovered iPhone and perform all recovery on their own, without sharing the firmware image with the FBI." -Dan Guido

26. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

In replying to the rest of your post... The News: bits that is... First, the cost to Apple to do this is, unfortunately, a moot point. If law enforcement conducts a warranted search of property, either the company absorbs the costs or the can possibly present an itemized bil ofl (or sue for) damages (things like man-hours worked, loss of business continuity, broken access points to allow entry) to the department. In which case, it's really really a moot point if the government winds up footing the bill as Apple then incurs no costs. Second, the number of requests to unlock a phone... Also moot. Each will require a warrant. (Working under the Some requests will be warranted

27. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

Edited text: (Working under the presumption Apple will say no.). Some requests will be warranted, and a judge will sign off on them. Some won't be warranted, and a judge will refuse as one already has. The part about WhatsApp seems to also be completely copied from Schneier's webpage too. That's a lot of Schneier there. Are you a student or an admirer? Are you Schneier himself?! Either way, some of his rhetoric comes off as alarmist. Not quite anti-government, but not far off. Then again, I'm not familiar with the full body of his work yet. However, that puts his objectivity into question if he exhibits a personal bias.

3. xondk

Posts: 1904; Member since: Mar 25, 2014

Supporting Apple's stance, which is a good one, but at the same time taking pot shots at their marketing style/image of how they present themselves, amazing. Heck, makes a better Apple commercial then Apple ever has in my book :) But yeah hopefully the US government will realize what it is trying to do and back down.

10. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

I think what is so funny is Apple is saying their security is so good no one can get in, yet they won't make the code to break it b/c everyone would steal it from them.

13. MyJobSux

Posts: 106; Member since: Apr 01, 2012

I think what is so funny is you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. You obviously don't even understand what your saying.

14. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

You showed me lol go back to your miserable job. You mad I have a different opinion than you? Seems to be the common theme today. Lot's of children running around.

15. greyarea

Posts: 267; Member since: Aug 14, 2015

iphone security != computer security. They're not scared "everyone" would steal it. They're scared ONE person could get it. It's about risk. Computer security professionals might know what they're talking about or you cankeep going with your hunches..

11. Sondae

Posts: 291; Member since: Jan 02, 2013

LOL Apple join us as we dance madly in the lip of the volcano.

12. MyJobSux

Posts: 106; Member since: Apr 01, 2012

This brightened my morning. I came in hating to be at work but this helped brighten my disposition.

19. o0Exia0o

Posts: 903; Member since: Feb 01, 2013

Soo much yes.....LAMFO..... Maybe now some of the people around here will start to understand why apple should not and has not complyed with the court order.....

21. greyarea

Posts: 267; Member since: Aug 14, 2015

Going by the posts so far I'm afraid it might not have made a huge dent, despite how good the piece was. Maybe the lack of retort is in fact people adjusting the complexities. I suppose there wouldn't be a whole lot of, "Oops, my bad. You guys were right. Thanks for trying to help us better understand."

22. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

I like how PhoneArena is making it easy for readers to keep track of all the related headlines. Kudos.

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.