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The Rise of the Data Privacy Saviour
March 3, 2016

The last few years have seen an explosion in private user profile information and data being taken from every possible source imaginable and there doesn’t seem to be anyone capable of giving the public the security they crave. But have we finally found our data privacy saviour?

No one in the digital world is safe, not even the all-powerful government.  Edward Snowden managed to steal and release thousands of documents from the CIA archives. What did we learn? The CIA, a spy network, was spying on everyone. Not much of a surprise there. Besides insider access there has also been a whole host of hacked information. 2010 saw Sony PSN lose 77 million user account details. 2012 told us that 160 million people’s bank account details had been taken from places like Nasdaq, 7-eleven and JC-Penney and 2014/2015 reportedly saw over a billion user accounts hacked from companies like Home Depot, JP Morgan and eBay to name a few. The break-in of the Ashley Madison account in 2015, I’m sure, left a lot of people barking for new data security laws at the very least. Now in 2016, with the data privacy brand in tatters emerges a potential data privacy evangelist.

The source of this new data security story starts in a dark corner of the human psyche. December 2nd, 2015, saw a mass shooting in the US that rocked the country. American born Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik entered the San Bernardino department of public health, where a training event and holiday party, consisting of about 80 employees, were gathered in a banquet room, and with semi-automatic hardware and rifles proceeded to open fire killing 14 people and seriously injuring 22 others. They escaped but were later tracked down and killed in a shoot-out with the police.

In the aftermath of this deadly attack the police tried to uncover any clues that would help them understand why such a horrific event could happen from one of their own citizens without them having any forewarning of it. One of the items which they have particular interest in is the iPhone that was found in the rented car used by both perpetrators.  The FBI believe that there is valuable evidence contained on this phone, regarding where they went straight after the shooting and who they may have contacted before and after it ,and are desperate to unlock it but, so far, have failed to do so. The reason they have failed up until now, besides resetting the icloud password account and locking themselves out, is due to new security measures Apple have introduced to the iPhone to prevent such a breach.

The FBI tried to gain access to the phone without Apples help but couldn’t. Seemingly they were trying a brute force approach at guessing the password but one of Apples new security measures is specifically designed to stop this approach by increasingly delaying the time between password attempts so it would take far too long to force their way in this way. The PIN also cannot be bypassed, by opening up the phone and copying the data, because the phones encryption is tied to a unique hardware key on the phone itself.  This has led the FBI to ask Apple to write a new special version of the iPhone OS which can be forcibly installed onto the phone without damaging the data it holds. This request is what Apple is reacting to.

Apple have stated that by writing a new OS for the government it will be able to then ‘hack’ into any iPhone they want and therefore negating the stringent security they have developed over the last few years and placed on their new phones. This, they say, will take away from their brand and tells their customers that they don’t really care that much about their personal data privacy. Judging by the vast array of data breaches over the last few years alone is it any wonder that Apple want to keep from writing this backdoor workaround for the FBI?

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has flat out refused to help the FBI in this request. Even though the data in question is from the phone of a multiple murderer he sees it as a bigger issue which involves all users of their products. On February 16th of this year he posted an open letter explaining what his motives behind it were. The below sums up his view.

“The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.” – http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/

Clearly what Tim Cook states above is enough to get most ardent patriots on his side so is this a new dawn of data privacy? With this type of new software security that even confounds the efforts of the US government have the hacks and data breaches of recent times become a thing of the past? Well, no, probably not. Your data is still out there and it is still being held in unsecure locations. But, maybe, just maybe, now we have found a new hero in the data privacy world. A new type of CEO who is willing to stand up to the might of government pressure for the sake of the little guy. A new data privacy hero taking the side of us, the innocent general public, and staking his personal and corporate reputation on it. Maybe this is the start of something new. The dawn of a new data privacy era. I for one hope it is the start of something big that changes the world forever and I back Apples stance and I hope more companies follow in their brave forward looking steps.

By Niall Wynne

BigCommuity Expert

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