Apple's software chief refuses to 'turn back the clock' on iPhone security
Calling digital security an "endless race," Craig Federighi criticizes the FBI for asking Apple to fall behind by building a backdoor into the iPhone.
Claire ReillyFormer Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
With every new generation of smartphone software and every browser update, the battle rages on.
Software engineers improve digital defenses, hackers find new vulnerabilities to exploit, and the engineers, in turn, work even harder to keep your data safe.
In what he describes as an "endless race" against the bad guys, a top Apple executive refuses to be hobbled, saying that engineers shouldn't have to turn back the clock on security, no matter the stakes.
Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, on Sunday penned an op-ed in The Washington Post, arguing that building a backdoor into the iPhone would drag Apple back to security standards of three years ago.
Federighi's comments are the latest salvo in the legal battle over FBI's demand that Apple crack an iPhone 5C belonging to one of the terrorists involved in December's massacre in San Bernardino, California. The FBI, along with the US Department of Justice, argues that the phone could hold vital clues, while Apple says deliberately compromising iPhone security would affect online safety for all its customers.
For Apple's software team, though, it's a simple matter of not losing ground in a critical battle.
"Our team must work tirelessly to stay one step ahead of criminal attackers who seek to pry into personal information and even co-opt devices to commit broader assaults that endanger us all," Federighi wrote in his op-ed. "Sadly, these threats only grow more serious and sophisticated over time."
Just as Apple fans wouldn't want the company to launch a new iPhone with last year's specs, Federighi said, Apple's security team isn't satisfied with old security either. According to his op-ed:
The encryption technology built into today's iPhone represents the best data security available to consumers...
That's why it's so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. They have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013.
But the security of iOS 7, while cutting-edge at the time, has since been breached by hackers. What's worse, some of their methods have been productized and are now available for sale to attackers who are less skilled but often more malicious.
For the engineers behind it all, the personal is political.
"Great software has seemingly limitless potential to solve human problems -- and it can spread around the world in the blink of an eye," Federighi said. "Malicious code moves just as quickly, and when software is created for the wrong reason, it has a huge and growing capacity to harm millions of people."