Tim Cook: Building a backdoor into the iPhone is ‘too dangerous’
Should tech companies provide governments with backdoors to their products, enabling them to bypass encryption and access people’s personal data? Apple’s answer is a resolute no.
On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook published a long open letter to the company’s customers, explaining why Apple is challenging the FBI’s recent demand for Apple to hack into the phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.
According to Cook, the government is demanding much more from Apple than breaking into just one device.
“They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone. Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession,” he wrote.
According to Cook, once such a tool is built, the Pandora’s box is opened and there’s no way to limit the use of this tool to just this one case.
Cook goes on to explain why backdoors to encryption are, in general, a horrible idea.
“In today’s digital world, the ‘key’ to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge,” he writes.
According to Cook, the FBI’s request — while possibly well intended — has “chilling” implications, and sets a far-reaching, dangerous precedent.
“The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge,” writes Cook.
Apple has opposed government requests to crack open or build a backdoor into an iPhone before. In October 2015, the company told a U.S. judge it cannot unlock a password-protected iPhone even if asked to do so by the authorities. And in September 2014, Cook posted another open letter to customers, claiming the company has “never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services.”