As FBI hacks into Apple iPhone, fears rise about users’ security

Washington/New Delhi, March 29 (IANS) As the news spread of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) hacking into the encrypted Apple iPhone of one of the terrorists involved in California shooting, a top US security firm has expressed fears of backdoor approach to put users’ security at hackers’ mercy.

In a statement shared with IANS on Tuesday, US software security firm Symantec Corporation said that while it understands the concerns expressed by some members of law enforcement, the firm does not support any initiative that would intentionally weaken security technologies.

“Putting backdoors or introducing security vulnerabilities into encryption products introduces new avenues of attack, and reduces the security of the broader Internet. We are committed to supporting law enforcement efforts to protect citizens and organizations online, without compromising the integrity and security of encryption technology,” the firm said.

According to media reports, a third party helped the FBI crack the security function without erasing contents of the iPhone used by Syed Farook. Farook, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, planned and executed the December 2, 2015, shooting that left 14 people killed at San Bernardino, California.

“This case should never have been brought. We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated,” Apple said in a statement.

“This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy,” the statement said.

From the beginning, “we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred,” it added.

Apple believes deeply that people in the US and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk.

In a earlier report released this year, Symantec’s security intelligence team had predicted that the opportunities for cybercriminals to compromise Apple devices will grow in 2016.

Apple devices have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. “This increase in usage has not gone unnoticed by attackers. A rising number of threat actors have begun developing specific malware designed to infect devices running Mac OS X or iOS,” the report said.

Although the number of threats targeting Apple operating systems remains quite low when compared to the company’s main competitors (Windows in the desktop space and Android in mobile), the amount uncovered has grown steadily in recent years.

“In tandem with this, the level of Apple-related malware infections has spiked, particularly in the past 18 months,” the report predicted.

“Apple users should not be complacent about security and change their perception that Apple devices are free from malware — this perception opens up opportunities for cybercriminals to take advantage of these users,” Symantec said.

Recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook, referring to the ongoing battle with the US government over encryption to unlock an iPhone, reiterated the company’s commitment to protect its users’ data and privacy.

Addressing a packed auditorium at its Cupertino, California-based headquarters, Cook said: “We have a responsibility to help you protect your data and your privacy. We will not shrink from this responsibility.”

“We built the iPhone for you, our customers, and for many of us it is a deeply personal device,” he told the gathering during a special launch event this month.

With the FBI hacking, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) scrapped its request for Apple Inc.’s assistance to hack into the phone of a terrorist killer.

On Monday, the federal government department, on behalf of the FBI, made the move at a US court in Central California, Xinhua news agency reported.

The two-page court filing said that the FBI had accessed data stored on the iPhone 5c.

It is now Apple’s turn to figure out, and for iPhone users to wonder, how secure is the phone and data on the device.

In this scenario, top US companies Google, Facebook and Snapchat are also expanding encryption of user data in their services.

While Whatsapp is set to roll out encryption for its voice calls in addition to its existing privacy features, Google is investigating “extra uses” for encryption in secure email.

Social networking giant Facebook too is working on to better protect its Messenger service.

The popular messaging service Snapchat is also considering a more secure messaging system.

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