Technology

Apple executive says FBI's iPhone demand would create huge setback in security arms race

Apple’s top software developer said acceding to the FBI’s request in the San Bernardino terrorism case would cause the iPhone’s defenses “to fall behind” in a digital arms race against hackers.

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Sunday with his first public comments on his company’s battle with law enforcement over encryption.

Investigators want Apple to uninstall security measures on an iPhone 5c used by one of the San Bernardino attackers so they can try to unlock it. They have also acknowledged they want the same done to potentially hundreds of phones that were used by other offenders and suspects and have similar safeguards.

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Removing barriers would “turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies,” Federighi said.  The FBI is essentially saying the security in iOS7, a version of the iPhone operating system released in 2013, was “good enough,” he wrote. But to the engineer, going back to version 7 from version 8, 9 or soon 10 would pose a huge risk.

“The security of iOS 7, while cutting-edge at the time, has since been breached by hackers,” Federighi wrote. “What’s worse, some of their methods have been productized and are now available for sale to attackers who are less skilled but often more malicious.”

Technology companies strive to stay ahead of programmers searching for vulnerabilities, though it’s often a futile effort. But several hackers recently said Apple has pulled far ahead since 2011.

“Security is an endless race — one that you can lead but never decisively win,” Federighi said. “We cannot afford to fall behind those who would exploit technology in order to cause chaos. To slow our pace, or reverse our progress, puts everyone at risk.”

Apple and the FBI are expected to be heard in court March 22 in just one of what’s expected to be many rounds in the case.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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