According to Reuters, Jobs’ Mob plans to change its iPhone settings to undercut the most popular means for law enforcement to break into the devices.
Apple claims the move will protect all customers, especially in countries where phones are readily obtained by police or by criminals with extensive resources, and to head off further spread of the attack technique.
But police often need to look at the smartphone of a criminal as part of murder and terrorist investigations. The fact that Apple has been such a dick about helping them solve a terrorist investigation by unlocking a dead terrorist’s phone has forced them to revert to tools which can hack phones.
Apple said it will change the default settings in the iPhone operating system to cut off communication through the USB port when the phone has not been unlocked in the past hour.
This is how machines made by forensic companies GrayShift, Cellebrite and others connect and get around the security provisions that limit how many password guesses can be made before the device freezes them out or erases data. Now they will be unable to run code on the devices after the hour is up.
Apple insists that criminals, spies and unscrupulous people often use the same techniques as police.
Against all evidence an Apple spokesperson said: “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”
We assume that it will continue to help police hack into phones if a court order is presented to it, and it agrees and not take the case to the Supreme Court delaying the investigation or making the use of iPhone based evidence moot.
The setting change could also draw criticism from US law enforcement officials who have been engaged in an on-again, off-again campaign for legislation or other ways to force technology companies to maintain access to users’ communications.
Apple and most private security experts argue that government contractors and others can usually find means of cracking devices. They say that weakening encryption by design would lead to more hacking by those outside of government.
A cynic might say that if the police wanted Apple to supply them with all the evidence they could eat, they should just sign a nationwide supply contract which gives an Apple to every cop. To keep a deal like that Apple might be more accomodating. The other approach would be that adopted by China which is to threaten to ban Apple products from the United States until it started helping the government.