Apple has a secret facility for stress-testing iPhone parts

Battery of grueling tests ensures chips and components aren't vulnerable to attack, The Independent reports.

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Apple's emphasis on protecting its customers' privacy includes putting the processors and components used in its iPhones through  a battery of extreme tests to ensure they're not vulnerable to attack.

The tests, conducted at a secret facility near Apple's new Apple Park campus, even subjects chips to extreme swings in temperature, The Independent learned during a recent interview with Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering.

"The aim as the chips are being stress tested is to see if they misbehave in these kind of extreme scenarios -- and, if they do, to ensure that happens in this lab rather than once they are inside the phones of users," The Independent wrote in a report published Sunday. "Any kind of misbehaviour could be fatal to a device.

"It might seem unlikely that any normal phone would be subjected to this kind of beating, given the chance of their owners going through an environment that chills them to minus 40C or heats them to 110C," the report says. "But the fear here is not normal at all. If the chips were found to be insecure under this kind of pressure, then bad actors would immediately start putting phones through it, and all the data they store could be boiled out of them."

Apple has taken high profile actions in support of user privacy. In 2016, for instance, it refused to alter its software so that the FBI could access an iPhone 5C tied to the San Bernardino terrorist incident, arguing that the change would create a back door to all other iPhones. Last year, it unveiled features for its Safari browser that could disable tracking tools Facebook and Twitter use to keep tabs on people's browsing habits.

"We know that there are plenty of highly motivated attackers who want ... to break into these valuable stores of information on our devices," Federighi said.

"I can tell you that privacy considerations are at the beginning of the process, not the end," continued Federighi. "When we talk about building the product, among the first questions that come out is: how are we going to manage this customer data?"

But Federighi bristled at an implication made recently by Google CEO Sundar Pichai that Apple is turning privacy into a "luxury good."

"I don't buy into the luxury good dig," Federighi said. "On the one hand, [it's] gratifying that other companies in space over the last few months, seemed to be making a lot of positive noises about caring about privacy."

Federighi also responded to criticism of Apple's decision to store iCloud data in China on servers owned by China Telecom, a state-owned carrier.

"Step one, of course, is the extent that all of our data minimization techniques, and our keeping data on device and protecting devices from external access, all of these things mean that data isn't in any cloud in the first place to be accessed by anyone," he said.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.