Although many suspect Apple’s fight with the FBI as a marketing ploy, the case has benefitted a niche industry of super secure smartphones and security apps.
As per Tech industry executives, the legal showdown between the FBI and Apple over the encryption issues surrounding its flagship smartphone is only likely to accelerate efforts by the tech industry to safeguard devices against government intrusion.
There already exists an emerging industry which markets its super-secure phones and mobile apps.
Strengthening this point of view is the voice of an Apple executive, who said that the company will strengthen its encryption if it wins its court battle with the federal government. The executive spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment publicly.
However, if Apple were to lose this court case, it would set a legal precedent proving U.S. government agencies a broader scope to coerce companies into breaking the security of their existing products.
Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, chips in saying even if the government were to win this case it could set off a new wave of investment by U.S. tech companies and security systems which will make it impossible for their own engineers to break.
“A success for the government in this case may further spur Apple and others to develop devices that the makers aren’t privileged to crack,” said Zittrain.
Already cloud storage provider Box, has provided its customers the sole custody of their data, said Joel De la Garza, Box’s chief information security officer. The idea being even if the government were to force the company to give it access to its client’s data, it would be impossible for it to do so.
“Our goal is to achieve a `zero-knowledge’ state where our customers have total control over their data,” said Garza.
It’s unclear whether Apple would follow such a strategy. As per two sources who are familiar with its strategy, Apple has no such plans.
This case against Apple by the FBI has benefitted a niche industry whose sole purpose is to thwart snooping by rivals, criminals and the government.
Ever since the startling revelations by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden regarding the widespread monitoring by the U.S. government on its own citizens, companies have released secure phones such as RedPhone, BlackPhone whose prime selling point is the fact that they are supposedly secure. These companies are likely to benefit if the Apple case were to drag on for years.
“That’s going to happen,” said Chris Wysopal, cofounder and chief technology officer of software security company Veracode. “People will go out of the country, and there will be a market.”
The law enforcement angle
U.S. law enforcement agencies have long been hobbled by encryptions which protect terrorists and bar them from carrying out their duties.
James Comey, the FBI’s Director has been outspoken in this regard. He has repeatedly warned that precious efforts made by law enforcement agencies are wasted due to issues related to encryption.
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Officials from other U.S. law enforcement agencies have said that the fears of the tech industry are exaggerated. In Apple’s case, this is nothing but a marketing ploy.
In the wake of Snowden’s revelations, tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook have accelerated the implementation of encryption in their services. They have also vigorously fought off perceptions of being too compliant with China shunning Cisco products after Snowden’s revelations.
The auto update feature, which most of us now rely on as a means to fix security flaws can suddenly turn suspect, if the government were to win the case.
“You are going to see a lot of people who thought auto-update was attractive backing away from that,” said Orion Hindawi, chief executive of security firm Tanium.