Forty-two years after unbreakable encryption was first conceived, these tools are more widespread than ever before. One milestone came in 2016, when the world’s largest messaging service—WhatsApp—announced it would offer default end-to-end encryption on all communications. In other words, the messages can be read only by the senders and recipients; even the platform provider can’t access them.
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are still reckoning with this new reality. For decades, they demanded that tech companies hand over private data on their users, sometimes without obtaining warrants. So companies like Apple changed their policies so individual users were the only ones holding the keys to their data.
This new era of consumer privacy led to a standoff in 2016, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) demanded access to an encrypted iPhone belonging to Sayed Farook, a deceased terrorist from San Bernardino, California. Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, had killed 14 people at a holiday office party in December 2015.
The FBI wanted Apple to write software that would weaken the iPhone’s built-in security. Apple refused, saying that such flawed software would jeopardize the security of its customers, who number in the hundreds of millions. Once a back door was created, the company claimed, the FBI could use it on similar phones—and it could be leaked to hackers or foreign enemies. “It is in our view the software equivalent of cancer,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told ABC News. Read the rest of this entry »