It’s been all over the news: in the States, Apple is refusing to comply with the FBI’s request to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino gunmen. The reason the Silicon Valley giant has given for its refusal is that building a backdoor would create a security breach that would potentially give hackers access to any iPhone.
So where should you draw the line between security and confidentiality? On Sunday 6th March 2016, there was a debate on this subject on “Supplément”, a programme on CANAL+. One of the experts who took part was Renaud Lifchitz, a consultant at Digital Security, a company dedicated to IoT security founded by Econocom Group in June 2015.
On 2 December 2015, the San_Bernardino_attack caused the deaths of 14 people, making it one of the biggest massacres in the history of California. The authorities quickly identified the two main suspects and their inquiries led them to an iPhone belonging to one of them. As well as just accessing the recent messages and calls, the FBI wanted to retrieve all the personal data stored on the phone. Thus, on 16 February 2016, a California judge subpoenaed Apple to provide investigators with “reasonable technical assistance”, which would entail creating a backdoor giving access to personal data.
A LEGAL, politiCAL AND philosophiCAL BATTLE
Apple believes this could create a “dangerous precedent”. As CEO Tim Cook explained in Apple’s customer letter:
“The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices.”
This point of view was backed up by Renaud Lifchitz, an IT security specialist for Digital Security:
“Introducing a backdoor is dangerous, because it involves creating a secret entry point into a system allowing access any time.”
The risk is unbridled, widespread diffusion. “With the Internet, information spreads very quickly… This access could soon become an open secret,” says Renaud Lifchitz. Data on iPhones is highly coveted, not just by criminals but unscrupulous companies.
“Personal data can fetch a lot of money and backdoors are even more valuable: €100,000 to €1 million for really big transactions.”
So where will this legal battle end? In the States, it could go to the Supreme Court. In France, the matter is being hotly debated but has yet to reach the courts: terrorists and organised crime networks tend to use untraceable pre-paid mobiles, which is why there have been no requests to unlock smartphones.