Feds Can't Crack Apple's iMessage Encryption for Investigation Purposes
April 4, 2013 10:46 AM
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The FBI is looking to amend a 1994 law so that it includes Internet companies
U.S. government agencies are upset that they can't spy on suspects' who are using
Apple's iMessage service
According to government agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), messages sent between iPhone users with the iMessage chat service are "impossible" to access because of iMessage's heavy encryption.
managed to get its hands on a DEA document, which describes a criminal investigation from February of this year. The document said that "it is impossible to intercept iMessages between two Apple devices" because of the encryption -- even with a federal court order.
Apple's iMessage chat service works a lot like a text message, but is transmitted through the internet rather than SMS messages by wireless carriers. It's an encrypted chat program that has become wildly successful. Apple CEO Tim Cook said 300 billion iMessages had been exchanged as of fall 2012.
However, the DEA and FBI are having troubles keeping an eye on suspects who use the chat service. For instance, in a case where the DEA drafted a request for a court order to carry out electronic surveillance under Title III of the Federal Wiretap Act, it found that text messages from Verizon Wireless were incomplete because the suspect was an iMessage user.
"There is a growing and dangerous gap between law enforcement's legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance, and its actual ability to conduct such surveillance," said FBI director Robert Mueller. "We must ensure that the laws by which we operate and which provide protection to individual privacy rights keep pace with new threats and new technology."
The FBI is pushing for legislation on the topic, but even if that doesn't go through, government agencies can employ other methods -- such as obtain a warrant allowing them to go into someone's house/office, install keystroke-logging software and record passphrases. They can also send malware to take control of the suspect's device.
One year ago today, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Navy had launched a new research initiative to explore ways of allowing the government to hack into gaming consoles like the
, Wii, or PlayStation 3 to obtain information on gamers.
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RE: Chat Logging
4/4/2013 6:45:55 PM
I thought by now ALL text messaging are logged by their service providers.
The problem with logging iMessage chats is that the encryption is endpoint-to-endpoint. That is, the plaintext is encrypted by the sender's phone, and decrypted by the recipient's phone. The only version of the message the service provider and Internet sees is the encrypted version. Even if Apple or your phone carrier were logging the messages (which apparently they are since the Feds were able to get copies to try to decrypt), they're still encrypted.
What we're seeing here is a fundamental shift in the concept of sending a message. In the old days, it was always possible to intercept a message. Modern cryptography and advances in computing power now mean that it's possible to send messages whose plaintext simply can't be intercepted (at least not in a realistic timeframe). The early salvos were strong encryption ciphers like DES, then RSA (public-private key). But iMessage is probably the widest-implemented due to the popularity of iPhones.
All this stuff about wiretaps and warrants is based on the premise that messages
be intercepted. But they go out the window if you're using messages which
be intercepted. Even if you ban endpoint-to-endpoint encryption, it's still possible for anyone to manually write a program that implements it.
This is the brave new world we're heading towards, whether law enforcement likes it or not. One where wiretaps are impossible. You can no longer intercept a message; you have to get a copy of it either from the source or the recipient. (Phones can still be remotely hacked, and encryption keys surreptitiously copied.)
RE: Chat Logging
4/5/2013 10:35:22 AM
"the plaintext is encrypted by the sender's phone, and decrypted by the recipient's phone. The only version of the message the service provider and Internet sees is the encrypted version"
Sounds basically the same as public key encryption, like PGP. Must be idiot proof and super easy to use or it wouldn't be on iPhones. Why hasn't this been a standard feature of every email application for years?
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