Monday, March 21, 2016

A digital Berlin Wall

18 months ago when the secure email service Lavabit shut down rather than give up its encryption keys to The Man, I wrote about how this is a long term disaster to the US Intelligence services:
The NSA has shot itself in the foot.  Not only have many people in the security community refused to cooperate with them anymore, some very smart folks have chosen to actively try to make NSA's life more difficult.

Me, I don't expect that NSA can possibly reform itself, and likely it will double down on its counter productive domestic snooping.  That will keep pouring gasoline on this fire, leading to even less cooperation and even more active monkey wrenching.
And now to current news: Apple's software engineers don't want to work with the FBI:
Apple's refusal to build a crippled iOS that will help the FBI unlock a killer's iPhone goes far beyond the executive suite. Some of Cupertino's own engineers are refusing to work on the operating system in case they are forced to aid the US government. 
Register sources familiar with the matter told us that, since the start of the iGiant legal showdown with the Feds in early February, Apple developers have been reluctant to work on certain iOS projects and engineering assignments for fear of being summoned by the FBI and forced to break their own product under legal duress. 
The opposition to the FBI's demand runs so deep that some Apple engineers have even threatened to walk away from the company: The New York Times cited "current and former" employees who said members of Apple's engineering teams are prepared to quit if they are ordered to weaken iOS's security mechanisms.
It is hard to overstate just how deeply people in the security industry feel this.  There's a real pride in being the Good Guys, in fighting the Good Fight, in making the World a Better Place.  The FBI is insisting that they violate that.

Things are getting quite interesting here.  Apple is in a real jam - if their very best security developers simply refuse to break the iPhone's security (which is exactly what is being asked), then if Apple cooperates they will be forced to rely on the second (or third) string engineers.  The chances that some horrible security bug gets inadvertently added to the code goes way, way up.  If the bug is bad enough, Apple could lose market share.

Given that the FBI can get everything they need from either the telephone companies (emails, chat messages, the iCloud backup, call records) or the NSA (who everyone thinks can break the phone anyway), Apple deserves to lose market share if they don't fight this all the way to the Supreme Court.

One thing to watch for: if Apple is serious, expect them to announce that they are considering relocating the company to a different country.  They have a ton of cash in overseas banks anyway (because of the idiotic corporate tax rates), so this seemingly wouldn't be difficult.

At that point about all the FBI could do is erect a digital Berlin Wall to keep people from leaving.


Archer said...

Apple is in a real jam - if their very best security developers simply refuse to break the iPhone's security (which is exactly what is being asked), then if Apple cooperates they will be forced to rely on the second (or third) string engineers.

The ONLY ray of hope in that, is that Apple may discover the first string engineers might be not only willing to fix it (and any bugs that arise), but have all new incentive to make it better than the FBI/NSA could ever imagine in their worst collectivist nightmares.

And go the extra mile and make those security/privacy improvements backward compatible, wherever possible.

Jester said...

If this goes south this may be one of those nails in the coffin that we all get to say tongue in cheek enjoy the decline of this civilization. This has nothing to do with national security as it as is .gov/alphabet seeing if it can crack one of the biggest capitalistic companies still on it's shores. (Though I wonder what the official score is of what candidates they shelled out to. Doubling down on irony would say they went in with the current administration that got them this but perhaps that's too perfect and me with my own twisted cynical mind.)

EMS Artifact said...

I just read the the US Attorney has asked for a postponement in tomorrow's hearing because an "outside party" has come forward with an idea of how to break into the phone.

The cynic in me thinks that the "outside party" is a fiction that the FBI will use to cover for the NSA getting the data. Which, as you point out, is what most people think has already happened.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I've lost track of the current status of the case, but I have been wondering: Is there also a 13th Amendment argument to be made here? The FBI is demanding what amounts to a very large amount of involuntary work from Apple, under threat of ruinous punishment, when Apple is not being accused of any crime.

In other words, how much unwilling labor can the government demand of a non-criminal party, regardless of pay, before it becomes equivalent to "involuntary servitude"?