To decrypt or not to decrypt. That is the question that had been raised in US courts over a few weeks in March 2016 after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) took Apple to court in order access to an encrypted iPhone. The phone in question was issued to Syed Rizwan Farook, a US government employee who was also one of the shooters in the December 2015 San Bernardino attack. Hence, the phone became evidence-gold to the FBI but proved a bit of challenge to crack having been locked with a password.
The FBI blamed Apple’s mobile operating system’s (iOS) advanced security features for the hold-up in opening the treasure trove since all user data had been encrypted and needed the password to be accessed. Expectedly, court orders and subpoenas ensued. But Apple resisted with fervor. Basically, the FBI had requested that Apple be ordered to create an alternative, watered-down, iOS that would be more easily crackable.
This had the potential to open up a can of worms if such an order was successful – it would create a dangerous precedent of setting up national security as a strong opposition against personal privacy. After a few days of litigative tug-of-war, the DOJ ultimately succumbed in their court applications having requested that the case be dropped. The FBI then issued a statement saying that they found a way to access the phone’s contents regardless.
Sending Ripples Through the Industry
Personal privacy is a contentious issue on the best of days. Cloud storage providers, mobile device creators and related software providers, companies that store and process personal information of customers, data backup providers, to name a few, all have an interest in the way this issue develops.
Encrypted Cloud Data
Data encryption is the go-to method of ensuring data remains secure from unauthorized access. If you make use of popular online backups like iCloud, DropBox, and Office365, your data is reasonably safe unless someone gains access to your account. Your password is your first line of defense. 2-Step authentication is preferable since it would even protect you if someone were to guess your password.
Encrypted Mobile Data
Early in April, even Facebook are climbing on the bandwagon by further improving their encryption for the immensely popular Whatsapp mobile app. An encouraging statement was released: “The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”
Data Security is a Team Effort
Data security in its entirety is a complex issue to be sure. Preventing crime and cybercrime, especially in the case of national security in today’s political climate, is really only something the private and public sectors can achieve by working together. Governments ultimately have legitimate reasons for keeping their own secrets and would therefore, require effective data security; while data security providers will need to be wary of the consequences of those that will be using their technology – for the good and the bad.