Ding! An iPhone notification rings.
A simple swipe to the right reveals a familiar number pad awaiting a four-digit passcode. Four digits stand in the way of access to the entirety of someone’s emoji-filled text messages, email updates and personal apps.
Although it seems like an insignificant security measure, the iPhone passcode is one of the biggest protections against iPhone thieves. It keeps cybercriminals from accessing the vast amount of personal information stored in one’s cellular device.
In fact, Apple has recently enforced strict security steps, such as a stronger encryption in iOS 8, especially in light of National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden’s surveillance exposure in 2014.
As a company that prides itself on customer privacy and security, Apple has refrained from developing software that overrides the security on its current iPhones. However, in the wake of the tragic slaying in San Bernardino, a federal court order has mandated that Apple create software to override the security features on gunman Syed Farook’s iPhone in order to gain potential indicting information. So far, Apple has not complied to this demand.
The FBI’s demand has become the source of major national debate, reintroducing the age-old discourse about whether the government has the right to infringe upon one’s privacy when handling matters of national security.
While I understand the FBI’s intentions behind this order, the potential risk that this software can be misused and create unimaginable harm makes it too much for the government to ask from Apple.
“Once you create that technology, you can’t take it back,” said Samuel Salazar, an APU Information and Media Technology (IMT) Repair Center technician. “You open up this new door [and] you [are] no longer secure.”
IMT associate vice president Jeff Birch, along with many other IT experts, believe that Apple can develop the software.
“However, the potential risks for doing so are high,” stated Birch. “Furthermore, it could involve significant effort on Apple’s part to rework their security protocols for this type of purpose.”
Apple executives indicated that even China has not asked its companies for the legal precedent being asked of Apple, and that a software capable of overriding security measures puts millions of iPhone users at greater risk of compromising that security.
“Apple’s (and also Google, with Android) software security measures are designed to protect the owner’s data,” Birch explained. “The concern is that the development of this software could lead to a government-mandated ‘backdoor,’ which creates the potential for not just governmental abuse and an ‘at will’ invasion of privacy, but [for] a new vulnerability [that] criminals [can] exploit.”
Although the FBI claims that the created software would be used for this case alone, there can be no guarantee whether that is actually true.
Other people outside of Apple, such as computer programmer and Libertarian Party presidential candidate John McAfee, claim that they are able to create the overriding software themselves.
“No software is perfect, and [McAfee’s] statement points to the idea of finding and exploiting a vulnerability in Apple’s software for this purpose,” Birch said. “However, historical precedence also encourages us that once exploitations are developed by ‘outsiders,’ Apple and other software developers [will] counter those exploitations with updates.”
Growing opposition to Apple’s decision includes Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“Boycott Apple until such time as they give that information,” Trump has said. Never mind the fact that later on the same day, Trump’s campaign tweeted from an iPhone with the tag “via Twitter for iPhone.”
Ultimately, one can never fully predict the dangers of complying to government demands for a stripping of privacy and compromise of security. It is simply impossible to approach without potentially stumbling into unprecedented dangers.
“It is a slippery slope,” Birch agreed.
Four digits; that’s all it takes to access someone’s iPhone cyber world. Someday soon this security feature might not be enough.