End to end Encryption, Apple and iCloud to WSJ Future of Everything

How can you help prevent or lessen the risk for companies and more importantly for people?  End to end encryption using on device keys. Many or all cloud providers encrypt, but they all hold the keys. Think about Apple’s iCloud backups for iPhone, iPad, Mac etc.  While encrypted, Apple holds the keys.  At any point an employee at any of the cloud providers – AWS, Google, Microsoft, maybe more (*1) – or hacker could replicate the backups.  Or the NSA, CIA, FBI MSS (China), EU, Russia etc could capture them in transit.  So any person who has ever backed up to icloud could have an image backup captured by someone else. With more than 1.8 billion active devices (*2) that is a hugely valuable trove of data including passwords, images, videos, documents, emails, thoughts etc for state security agencies, hackers, criminals etc.  All that is required then is access to Apple’s keys.  How secure are Apple’s keys?  The answer to that is: how many zero-day patches does Apple patch?(*3)  No company, Apple included, is perfect.  It could be a software bug, burglar, a rogue employee willing to take a $10 million payoff, someone (NSA, MSS etc) who has broken into Apple’s internal systems, a social engineering hack or any number of other ways.  

How much would the NSA or CIA pay to have a copy of every email, text message, credit card, passwords to everything, photo and video for 1.8 billion devices?  What about a rogue country?  What about criminals?  It makes a huge target on Apple and on every cloud provider to have the master key just one hack away.  Then everything ever backed up on icloud is potentially available.

This same holds for Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and every other company.  This is not an attack on Apple, they probably have the best security out there, but it can be improved.  Apple planned to add it (*4) back in 2017 or 2018, but caved to FBI pressure.  Any company or person that uses iPhones or iPads and iCloud backup etc is vulnerable to an Apple iCloud hack.  Any company that uses Google, Microsoft or AWS is at least if not more vulnerable for similar methods. 

On device keys means that if your device is compromised, your information is compromised, but that is only 1 person, not 1.8 billion devices all at once.  Ditto for Android etc.  Thus, if you are a high value target using an iPhone, you could be at risk just like now, but there isn’t one master key that will open every door, just one door at a time making the value of an attack 1.8 billion times smaller.

It isn’t a question of IF this will happen, it is just a question of WHEN it will happen.  Who knows, perhaps the NSA or CIA or FBI already has the keys and access to the backups via other methods.  When was the last time there was a big stink between the FBI and Apple?  It has been a while which is worrying.

The key is that eventually Apple, Google, Microsoft, and/or AWS encryption keys will be lost, just no one knows when.  Zero trust is critical to prevent huge damage.  Think of the cost of 1.8 billion devices being compromised to credit card companies to replace cards, everyone having to change every password, private photos and videos being accessible, private thoughts and correspondence.  They are staggering, in the trillions.  And that would be just Apple.  Think about the liability to Apple, a huge class action suit.  Think about the liability to their cloud providers etc.  

* Notes: 

1. Providers Apple uses for iCloud, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICloud

2. Number of Apple devices: https://www.theverge.com/2022/1/28/22906071/apple-1-8-billion-active-devices-stats

3. 8 between 1/1/2022 and 9/12/2022  https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/apple-fixes-eighth-zero-day-used-to-hack-iphones-and-macs-this-year/ And more with iOS 16:  https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2022/09/12/apple-patches-a-zero-day-hole-even-in-the-brand-new-ios-16/

4. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-fbi-icloud-exclusive/exclusive-apple-dropped-plan-for-encrypting-backups-after-fbi-complained-sources-idUSKBN1ZK1CT

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