Product News 3 min. read

James Comey says Apple and Google’s data encryption “drove me crazy”

James Comey says Apple and Google’s data encryption “drove me crazy”

You’ve probably heard that James Comey, the former FBI Director, has released a new book. In the memoir, A Higher Loyalty, he not only talks about working with President Trump but he also shared his views on encryption and data security—and he’s not a fan.

One of the things that Comey brings up in this book is the 2014 decision from Apple and Google to encrypt mobile devices. He said that this angered him, and “drove me crazy.” He also mentioned that the powers that be in Silicon Valley didn’t “see the darkness” that is visible by the FBI.

“I found it appalling that the tech types couldn’t see this,” Comey wrote. “I would frequently joke with the FBI ‘Going Dark’ team assigned to seek solutions, ‘Of course the Silicon Valley types don’t see the darkness—they live where it’s sunny all the time and everybody is rich and smart.”

The truth is that tech companies like Google and Apple have had conflicting ideas with law enforcement, including the FBI, over encryption. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has been outspoken about this, and he says that privacy is critical to the population and that Apple would never comply with any government request to access user data through a ‘backdoor.’

Backdoors have been around for a while now, but thus far, major tech companies haven’t been open to offering government officials a way to sneak in and access data.

“While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products,” said Cook in an open letter. “And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

The standoff between major tech companies and government officials has given smaller security firms an opportunity. Companies like Grayshift are focused on finding ways to break into Android and iPhones, and this tech is already being used by law enforcement to access data on a suspect’s device without requiring Apple’s assistance.

Grayshift’s solution, known as GrayKey, claims to be able to bypass security in iPhones. According to reports, the government and other organizations can pay $15,000 for an online version of the software or $30.000 for an unlimited version. Grayshift says that this software can unlock both Apple’s iOS 10 and iOS 11 operating systems and that it is working on an update that can unlock iOS 9.

This is reportedly how law enforcement broke into the iPhone used by the San Bernadino shooter back in 2016. Apple’s argument not to allow a backdoor for situations such as this is one of privacy but also that it opens up its devices to hackers; if you provide a hole for one organization, odds are bad guys will eventually find a way in too.

However, even smaller local law enforcement agencies are reportedly now using Grayshift, so it appears that there is already a hole that needs plugging. One solution might be for law enforcement and Apple/Google simply to come to an agreement. For now, at least, that doesn’t seem likely. It appears as if Comey’s friends at the FBI will have to continue relying on other resources.

In the meantime, don’t forget to protect your phone. Criminals can easily backdoor your device and steal your sensitive data when you are connected to free, unencrypted WiFi—like at a hotel, cafe, or airport. Be sure to download Hotspot Shield for free and keep your device secure.

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Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, Brookings Institution

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