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San Bernardino: what does the security industry think?

Posted by on February 19, 2016.

SC Magazine asserts that Apple is on wrong side of fight with FBI, experts say. However, that’s certainly not a universal expert view. Bruce Schneier, who is not always right but has a near-iconic status as one of the voices of the security industry, states the position held by many of us pretty clearly in an article for the Washington Post: Why you should side with Apple, not the FBI, in the San Bernardino iPhone case – Either everyone gets security, or no one does. He asserts that the FBI will use this as a precedent for security companies helping them ‘by breaking their users’ security.’

The FBI sees this as a privacy vs. security debate, while the tech community sees it as a security vs. surveillance debate.

The trouble is, most people want security and privacy. On the whole, the tech industry is leaning towards privacy and offering (somewhat low-key and self-protective) verbal support to Apple. You may or may not trust a government’s intentions, but it’s certainly reasonable to doubt its ability to preserve the security or privacy of the people it serves. And there’s certainly a slippery slope argument here.

While this has been presented as a one-off requirement to offer assistance, it’s pretty clear now that Apple could in theory apply similar (but not identical) forensic techniques to later models of iPhone, Security Enclave notwithstanding. It’s unlikely that similar techniques aren’t available for other devices from other manufacturers. And it would be naive to assume that law enforcement and politicians would be reluctant to apply pressure to ensure cooperation. If a powerful, self-proclaimed libertarian nation goes that route, it’s going to be that much harder to point the finger at more repressive regimes pushing harder on the backdoor pedal.

You may not believe, like Hamza Shaban, that the FBI’s goal is to push for a new law:

…to create a political controversy driven by fear of terrorism committed by Muslims, and get egregious new anti-encryption legislation passed. I think the FBI knew Apple would fight this, and that the laws currently on the books are on Apple’s side.

But the result is likely to be the same.

I’ve already commented on some of these issues on the Mac Virus site, which is largely focused on Apple security, though on the whole I’ve pointed to articles discussing the issues rather than presenting long pieces based on my own opinions. John Gruber is taking a somewhat similar approach on his Daring Fireball blog.

David Harley


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