Paul Thurrott’s Short Takes: iPhone Encryption Special Edition

Paul Thurrott's Short Takes: iPhone Encryption Special Edition

Because I’m of an encrypted mind, this edition of Short Takes focuses on this week’s big tech controversy: A US governmental demand that Apple decrypt a terrorist’s iPhone.

Note: Because of the seriousness of this issue, I’m going to keep the frivolity to a minimum, and move the headline riffs to the end. –Paul

Apple takes on the law … and will mostly likely lose

The US government has demanded that Apple decrypt an iPhone that was used by a terrorist in the San Bernardino shooting, and Apple has said it will not do so. “The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,”an open letter from Tim Cook explains. Apple now has until February 26 to file a formal response. But …. come on. No matter where you fall on the encryption backdoor debate, there is no way Apple wins this one: There are just too many scenarios where there is a legal justification for search and seizure of information. Law enforcement can search a home, a house, or a storage location. Why not an iPhone?

Why not indeed?

In that open letter, Mr. Cook says that the US decryption demand is “unprecedented” and has far-reaching implications. He also uses this event as an opportunity to promote Apple, which I think is a mistake. “Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives … and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding customer data … We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack … weakening encryption would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.”

Other tech giants don’t exactly rush to Apple’s aid

While most high-profile tech companies are lining up behind Apple in some way, the support is surprisingly muted. Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo refused to issue their own statements, though each signed on to a joint statement from a tech association. And while Google CEO Sundar Pichai was ostensibly supportive—via a tweet, of all things—Facebook’s statement never even mentioned Apple or Tim Cook by name. It’s interesting to me that a general ambivalence about the company that currently dominates personal computing could contribute to other firms backing rival policies. Will competition play a role in this decryption debate?

John McAfee says he’ll decrypt the iPhone for the feds

John McAfee—ace programmer who created the anti-virus software that used to bear his name and, more recently, a “person of interest” in a murder case in Belize—says he can solve the FBI’s iPhone decryption issues, though he doesn’t understand how the FBI is incapable of doing this themselves. “I work with a team of the best hackers on the planet,” he wrote. “I would eat my shoe .. if we could not break the encryption on the San Bernardino phone … Here is my offer to the FBI. I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks.” Crazy person? Obviously? Awesome? No doubt about it.

Hospital pays ransom to hackers to get its data back

In a chillingly common scene these days, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was hacked recently, with the hackers encrypting the hospital’s computers and demanding a ransom to get the data back. Ultimately, the hospital paid the $17,000 ransom—in Bitcoin—because it was unable to restore the data from backups. So. What is this? A failure of disaster recovery protocols? Or an example of why encryption backdoors are actually necessary and inevitable? Let’s just say that virtually none of us back up properly. And that maybe this is a good time to review your own strategies.

“Microsoft fixes sleep deprivation issues for Surface Book and Surface Pro 4”

It’s like a C-PAP for your Surface!

“Neverware turns your tired laptop into a speedy Chromebook”

Taking it from “slow but useful” to “faster but useless” in one simple upgrade!

“Kanye West just doesn’t get it”

I have nothing to add to that.

“Google Introduces Gamer IDs For Google Play Games”

And only 14 years after Microsoft did this with Xbox Live. Good for them.

“Windows Phone sales have almost ground to a halt”

What happens next? Negative market share?