Rather than use the tools at its disposal to hack into an iPhone recovered from one of the terrorists who carried out the horrific San Bernardino mass shooting late last year, the FBI chose to make the battle public. Many believed the Bureau hoped to set a precedent that would enable it to compel companies like Apple to assist in similar cases in the future. After all, it would be far simpler for Apple to break into an iPhone by building a custom version of its iOS platform than it would be for agencies like the NSA to hack their way in.
But in taking this fight public, the FBI has seemingly made its worst nightmare come true.
A court recently demanded that Apple assist the FBI in its efforts to break into the recovered iPhone, and the Cupertino-based company is currently in the process of fighting the court’s decision. But even if the FBI ultimately wins, and even if this case does set a precedent, the Bureau may have shot itself in the foot.
As noted by The Guardian, technology companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are obviously watching the FBI’s fight quite closely, and many companies have come out in support of Apple. But they aren’t just supporting Apple’s fight on paper, they’re also supporting Apple’s stance with their own actions.
Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat and other companies are said to be in the process of making their apps more secure as a direct result of the FBI’s public battle with Apple. For example, WhatsApp now has plans to encrypt its voice calling feature in addition to text messaging. Facebook is also said to be considering a big security upgrade for its popular messaging app.
In other words, because the FBI is fighting so publicly for a means to bypass device security, software companies are now making it their mission to protect users’ data more securely than ever before. What does that mean for the FBI? Even if it can force smartphone vendors to unlock phones in the future, it might be next to impossible to recover any data from the key apps contained on the phones.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen reports that the FBI’s fight is pushing companies to strengthen security. In fact, Apple is reportedly in the process of building an unhackable iPhone and we have the FBI to thank.