It has been a little over two months since the Apple vs. FBI case was dismissed: a case that set off a debate over privacy and security in the digital age we are living in, and that seems to be a milestone in the history of the 21st century thus far. The term encryption – the process in which messages or files are protected from being stolen or seen by someone else other than the authorized person- continues to linger in our heads, giving us something to ponder. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook’s, refusal to cooperate with U.S. authorities in the domestic terrorism investigation of the San Bernardino attacks back in December 2015 sort of backfired on him, and created a wave of skepticism which flooded the minds’ of Apple’s customers with concern over the tech giant’s encryption system.
Apple’s firm fight to not develop a backdoor to bypass its existing OS security, essentially not to deteriorate the credibility of the brand, made the case for federal infringement on privacy pushing the FBI to back off and seek help from a third-party entity to access the content on the shooter’s iPhone – a task that was later accomplished. But how was the FBI able to crack the phone if Apple said it couldn’t be done? They had no comment as to how they did it or if it even had any useful evidence. However, they made sure to flip positions by not disclosing to Apple the several flaws the hacker(s) had come across while trying to break into the locked phone.
Needless to say, Cook wasn’t going to go rest on his laurels and cleverly stepped up his game by adding (once again) Jon Callas, the designer of the encryption system to safeguard data stored on a MAC, to his payroll. The cutting edge computer security expert known for having co-founded several honorable secure communications companies such as PGP, Silent Circle and Blackphone has expressed his opposition on companies being compelled by law enforcement to break into their own encrypted products. However, Callas doesn’t dismiss sharing undisclosed software vulnerabilities to be able break into systems to help solve a case, so long as the vulnerabilities are disclosed after so they can be fixed. Although neither Callas nor Apple revealed what the software engineer’s role within the company will be, his comeback to Apple demonstrates how encrypted communications are really going mainstream.
As a result, other major companies such as Facebook and its superstar messaging service WhatsApp , which is responsible for the security of 450 million users’ conversations, photos, videos and calls, have also implemented encryption to make it harder, but not impossible, for law enforcement, high-level hackers, and cybercriminals alike to have access to any citizen’s private digital information.
The feud between tech companies and the government is nowhere near an end, the latter maintains that tech companies need to assist them whenever it is needed. In the smart-everything era, terrorist attacks have become easier to perform. From Syria to Lebanon to Paris to the U.S., the most used weapon of mass destruction and self-destruction is a smart device, and we have to learn to discern when our constitutional right to privacy can be violated. For that reason, it seems that hackers and encryption are both a double-edged sword and a match made in heaven.
By Cynthia Paola Bautista