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Apple can’t really prevent the scary way spies might tap into iPhone data

Published Mar 24th, 2016 1:47PM EDT
iPhone Spying Apple iCloud
Image: Apple

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Apple may have won its first major battle with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, at least in the public eye. But the iPhone encryption wars are far from over, and there’s no telling whether the FBI will indeed stop from harassing the company about creating backdoors into its software. Furthermore, there’s no telling what the NSA can already do when it comes to encrypted iPhones, and Apple is apparently worried that spies may have an out-of-the-box way to tap into iPhone data — one that doesn’t require court orders, public debates or new legislation.

It’s all very simple for intelligence agencies, and very scary for everyone else: Spies could be adding backdoors to Apple’s cloud.

DON’T MISS: We asked every member of Congress with a computer science degree about Apple’s war with the FBI

A report this week said that Apple is struggling to build its own data centers, and that’s why it’s forced to rent cloud servers from other companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Apple needs huge data centers to power some of the popular products tied to the iPhone, including iTunes, the App Store and iCloud.

But Apple is worried that some of the equipment makers and cloud services it has to deal with have already been compromised by vendors who agreed to insert backdoors into their equipment, The Information reports.

Apple suspects that the servers it has been ordering from others might be captured during shipping so that backdoors can be installed. If that sounds familiar, it’s because an Edward Snowden leak explained in late 2013 that the NSA has a project that does that: Capture hardware before it reaches its destination to bug it.

Apple is apparently so paranoid about this potential issue that at one point it even had people taking photos of the motherboards in the computer servers it was using, and then mark down exactly what each chip was. That’s why building its own data centers is such an important project for Apple — it’s the only way to ensure no one is tampering with its equipment.

It’s unclear if Apple’s paranoia is warranted, or whether iCloud data is already easily accessible to the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Of note, even if spies could tap into Apple server data, local data on the iPhone remains encrypted by the user.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.