Is Apple Using The FBI As A Marketing Opportunity?

Encryption is an important part of our digital lives.  It shields our data so that we can perform routine tasks like checking our bank account and paying bills online, using digital wallets like Apple Pay and Android Pay, and various other tasks that we probably weren’t achievable 20 years ago.

Apple knows that encryption is a key selling point for their devices and have done a great job of marketing enhancements with device security…which, it’s good for a company to take customer security to heart with cyber attacks and personally identifiable information being exposed on the Internet.

That being said this is an election year, so a usual fight between tech companies and governments over encryption has garnered the attention of those vying to become the 46th President of the United States.  Unfortunately, the term “encryption” automatically becomes taboo when used in a sentence with ISIS or al-Qaeda for a lot of presidential candidates and something that must be defeated for #LIBERTY.  Or something. WindowsITPro has an article that outlines the answers from candidates concerning this matter.  I’m sure some IT pros are rolling their eyes at some of the answers.

Think of encryption as money.  It’s a neutral medium.  Money can be used to pay bills or buy illicit drugs.  Encryption can be used to ensure that car payments are made securely or can be used by hackers to encrypt a victim’s hard drive and demand ransom.  The good and the bad is that encryption with good passphrases and keys take a very, *VERY* long time to break with modern computers (theoretically, quantum computing can defeat the best encryption in a mind-blowingly short amount of time, but practical quantum computers are probably decades away).

Anyway, back to Apple.  I came across an article from Ars Technica that talks about how, in spite of Tim Cook’s letter to customers saying how they are standing up to the big, bad government, that the FBI isn’t wanting a backdoor into iOS:

The iPhone requires that its firmware have a digital signature that authentically demonstrates that the firmware was developed by Apple and has not been subsequently modified. The FBI does not have (and is not asking for) access to Apple’s signing key. It is instead asking for Apple to use its signing key to sign the custom firmware so that the iPhone will accept it and run it. It is this signature requirement that means the FBI cannot create the software itself. [emphasis added by me]

It’s this same requirement that also means that iPhone users would be safe even if the special firmware leaked. Changing the embedded unique identifier within the special firmware would break the signature and thus cause targeted iPhones to reject the firmware. This is why complying with the court demand would not jeopardize the security of any other phones. The cryptographic safeguards don’t allow it.

So, it comes down to that the FBI really needs Apple to sign off on firmware specifically written for the iPhone of the San Bernadino attacker.  The cynical side of me wonders if a.) Apple jumped on the opportunity to use the FBI to promote the security of the iPhone and its iOS operating system for selling more product and b.) presidential candidates used this opportunity to jump on the anti-encryption bandwagon and show that they’re strong on national defense.

It seriously makes me wonder what different tune would be played by the Republican field if this were a hypothetical involving a gun manufacturer and the federal government.

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It seems politicians will chime in even when they have no clue what they are talking about. Encryption is not a single entity. There are thousands of types of encryption and it one is deemed compromised, terrorists will move on to another. Consumers, however, will be left with unsafe communications. Create a back door for the FBI and you’ve created one for hackers, China, and everyone else who has less than honorable intentions…and that includes the government.

George Chidi
George Chidi

Apple’s legal case rests on how one interprets the fourth amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizures. The government is doing more than searching and seizing the information contents of the phone: it’s effectively seizing the entire encryption process used by about one billion phones and one out of eight humans on Earth, not to mention destroying the brand value of Apple as a protector of data in the process. If breaking this encryption takes even one percent off of Apple’s market cap … that’s $5 billion in economic damage. The government has to argue that doing… Read more »


For reasons I’ve listed before,I’m totally with Apple. Some of the candidates are pandering for the unlock. Interestingly enough, many high ranking officials of our three-letter intelligence agencies are, themselves, using commercially available encrypted devices. So are many of our overseas allies. The death knell for it all would be if encryption were declared illegal by various governments. For example, a couple of years ago David Cameron made such a suggestion. If they get together and do that, many of the encryption outfits that house their servers overseas would be in huge jeopardy.