Will Apple ever answer its iPhone security questions?

Some people simply have to have the latest phone – teenagers, techno-hipsters, app developers, those utterly devoted to tasting every Apple product. Even some in law enforcement or those intent on keeping secrets (looking at you, Hillary Clinton).

So when you spend $770 on the plus model iPhone 7, you’ll get some panache, a better camera, waterproofing and the world’s most sophisticated cellphone encryption. But you won’t get the nearly universal headphone jack. That has upset those who run all sorts of things from their phones – projectors, camera lights, payment Squares, cute little fans, etc.

Apple exec Phil Schiller said it took “courage” to abandon the jack; others say it was a business move to require folks to buy new Apple products like the AirPod ($159) music device or jack-free earbuds ($160) or just dongles and dual-port plug-ins ($40). No matter, iPhone 7 sales have been spectacular.

Our problem with Apple goes deeper. We think it would take more courage to deal with the questions created by supposedly unlockable encryption.

Remember a few months ago when Apple refused to help the FBI open the iPhone of terrorist Syed Farook? The phone belonged to San Bernardino County, so there were no privacy issues, just technical problems frustrating the FBI. The showdown appeared to be headed to the courts when a hacker found the “key,” allowing the FBI into the phone.

The iPhone 7 operates on the new highly encrypted iOS 10. For the Silicon Valley tech giant, this means more enormous profits to hide from tax collectors. For the FBI, it could mean big headaches. At least for awhile. But while Apple celebrates and the FBI angsts, thousands of hackers will be trying to break the code.

Happens all the time. When “white hat” hackers find an encryption “key,” they offer it to our government or the company that created it. “Black hat” hackers offer them to the highest bidder, and what they do with those keys isn’t nice or legal.

Andrei Soldatov’s book “Red Web” focuses on the cyberwar raging between the United States and those intent on harming us (mainly Russia, Donald Trump), but includes a description of how these hacks play out.

Companies such as Apple would prefer we not worry about hackers, mainly because it might shake our faith in products such as the iCloud Keychain. It makes all your banking passwords and credit card info accessible by your phone. That will undoubtedly make it easier to buy a cup of coffee … and easier for someone sitting in Moscow or Beijing or Bucharest to steal your money.

Apple says it encrypts information to thwart criminals. Law enforcement says those encrypted systems make it more difficult to catch them. Both are right.

Apple’s last encrypted system wasn’t so secure. But no system is. If information isn’t truly secure – from criminals or from governments – should it also be impossible to access in a national emergency?

This question was left unanswered following the Apple-FBI showdown, like an annoying ringtone on a locked phone.

If Apple and law enforcement can’t find the answer, Congress should dial in. If not Congress, surely the courts.


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