Ever since iOS 8, Apple has been reminding law enforcement that it can’t pull data off locked iPhones. In a subtly sassy brief filed for a federal judge, Apple has reminded everyone that it can’t (and won’t) break users’ encryption if the government asks it to.
The brief was filed at the invitation of U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein, who is being asked by the Justice Department to force Apple to help extract information from a seized iPhone. In the brief, Apple says:
In most cases now and in the future, the government’s requested order would be substantially burdensome, as it would be impossible to perform. For devices running iOS 8 or higher, Apple would not have the technical ability to do what the government requests—take possession of a password protected device from the government and extract unencrypted user data from that device for the government. Among the security features in iOS 8 is a feature that prevents anyone without the device’s passcode from accessing the device’s encrypted data. This includes Apple.
Apple is essentially confirming what we already know: there’s no backdoor built into iOS, meaning that in theory no-one can pull data off an iPhone running iOS 8 or later—the information is protected by encryption that is tied to the user’s PIN.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that just because Apple says extracting data from a locked iPhone is “impossible”, doesn’t make it so. When iOS and its improved security first came out, security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski penned a blog showing how some information is still within the government’s grasp, and nothing much has changed.
So while it’s encouraging to see Apple maintaining its hard line on user privacy, your iPhone still isn’t quite ironclad protection. It’s just protection that Apple won’t help break down.