A back door… or a trap door?

I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate, and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.

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Apple boss Tim Cook has today hit back at the FBI over a court order issued to help the US agency unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook. Farook, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in the attack in December last year.

Mr Cook had previously defended the company’s refusal to comply with the FBI’s order that it remove security blocks on Farook’s device so data on it could be accessed and help the FBI in its investigations.

He said the FBI was asking the company to make “the software equivalent of cancer”; as it would effectively open a back door into the iOS operating system that could threaten users’ privacy, put consumers at risk of cyber fraud, and invite covert monitoring by government or law enforcement agencies.

And in an irony perhaps not lost on Apple, opening up the iOS operating system could actually benefit those same criminals or terrorists keen to exploit these holes, or seeking ways to cover their tracks.

“The protection of people’s data is incredibly important. And so the trade-off here is we know that doing this could expose people to incredible vulnerabilities.”  Mr Cook told ABC.

When asked if he was concerned that Apple may hinder investigations that could prevent a future attack, Mr Cook said: “Some things are hard and some things are right. And some things are both. This is one of those things.”

However….

While Tim Cook fears our exposure to “incredible vulnerabilities”, I cannot help think that we are at far greater vulnerability to the type of globalised, highly-organised and ruthless terrorist activity that Farook potentially represents.

With the horrific memories of Bataclan still fresh, is Silicon Valley going to take the risk that a refusal to allow the authorities into a terrorist’s phone may result in another heinous, terrorist incident with the loss of many lives?

As I have said before, those with nothing to hide should have nothing to worry about.  The so-called Snoopers’ Charter presents no threat to those without criminal intent.

The suggestion that allowing the FBI into a terrorist’s smartphone is a mortal attack on our civil liberties misses the point.  The real point is that there are too many real mortal attacks that are taking real lives at the moment.

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