Consumer Security


The Calm Before the Next US vs. Apple Storm

Apple got a last-minute reprieve last week. The U.S. government no longer is going after the company to break into the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, for now. It found another way. So Apple dodged a bullet, this time.

However, as terrorism rises, this sticky question will rise again — count on it. Now, when things are quiet, is the best time to debate this issue and come up with a solution.

If the government no longer needs Apple to break into an iPhone, is it really that invulnerable? There are many questions, and like a lot of people, I can understand and agree with both sides of the argument — but what should happen next?

The Security Threat

What’s the real problem? In the recent controversy, the U.S. government said all it needed was to be able to access the information on a particular iPhone. To many, that sounded easy. Apple should have no problem complying with one seemingly isolated case, right? Wrong.

It actually opened a Pandora’s box, and once open, there is no going back. There are many reasons acceding to the government’s demands would have been a bad idea. The government was asking Apple to create a back door — to write software that, once created, could spread and create problems for Apple’s entire ecosystem.

Security vulnerabilities have posed a major threat for years. I am so happy that the new iOS is so secure. I would be upset if that security could be lost with the creation of new backdoor software.

Every federal, state and local government would want to get its hands on that software to break into iPhones to help investigate cases. Also, every foreign government would want access for the same reasons. So, the consequences would spread beyond that one isolated case, threatening Apple’s security systems and its marketplace value.

You can be sure that backdoor software also would spread to the shady elements. They would use it to steal our information, our money and our secrets right from under our noses.

The Swiss Cheese Effect

Had Apple been compelled to create a back door, its use wouldn’t have been limited to just one case. It would turn Apple’s secure systems into Swiss cheese. Valuable, private information of countless individuals, businesses, groups and governments would be compromised.

That’s what is at risk. Most people want to empower the government to protect citizens — but most also want to protect their own privacy and information.

That’s the double-edged sword, and there is no one correct answer. There are valid arguments on both sides. Although the best solution remains a million-dollar question with no answer, I am glad the government has found another way to solve the problem this time.

With this break in the action, what we should be doing right now is having a serious debate and coming up with real solutions to bridge the gap. How do we give the government what it needs to protect us, while safeguarding our personal information?

Let’s have a debate, not a lawsuit. It’s always better to have discussions when things are calm, rather than during a crisis. It makes finding a solution more possible.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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