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Apple execs deny company helps NSA monitor iPhone users

Apple executives have denied granting the US National Security Agency a so-called “backdoor” that allowed the intelligence monolith to surveil the company’s popular mobile devices.The denial was prompted by a report this week in the German  newspaper Der Spiegel which revealed that the NSA uses software  known as DROPOUT JEEP to monitor an iPhone user’s files, text  messages, contact lists, and location data. The technology was  also capable of using the iPhone’s camera and even its  microphone.

Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in  any of our products, including the iPhone,” company  spokeswoman Kristin Huguet announced Tuesday. “Additionally,  we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our  products.”

One member of the NSA’s TAO hacking unit quoted by Der Spiegel  said DROPOUT JEEP is what the agency uses for “getting the  ungettable.”

It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of  intelligence that is important,” the TAO chief wrote, adding  that the program has provided “some of the most significant  intelligence our country has ever seen.” It has “access  to our very hardest targets.”

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and other tech companies  have publicly criticized the NSA since PRISM and dozens of other  programs were made public. Yet security researcher Jacob  Applebaum, in a speech delivered this week, used DROPOUT JEEP as  a cautionary example to warn against too much corporate  involvement in surveillance.

Do you think Apple helped them build that?” he asked at  one point. “I don’t know. I hope Apple will clarify  that…Here’s a problem: I don’t really believe that Apple didn’t  help them. I can’t really prove it, but they [the NSA] literally  claim that anytime they target an iOS device, that it will  succeed for implantation. Either they have a huge collection of  exploits that work against Apple products, meaning that they are  hoarding information about critical systems that American  companies produce and are sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it  themselves.

Not sure which one it is,” Applebaum continued.   “I’d like to believe that since Apple didn’t join the PRISM  program until after Steve Jobs died, that maybe it’s just that  they write shitty software.”

Apple similarly denied that it could decipher the iMessages sent  between users earlier this summer, only to have that assertion  debunked days later. The company claimed that its Apple-exclusive  communications were encrypted both when they were sent and  received. Yet researchers at the QuarksLab security firm found  that Apple’s iMessage technology that it could almost certainly  be subverted by the NSA.


So yes, there is end-to-end encryption as Apple claims, but  the key infrastructure is not trustworthy,” they wrote  earlier this year. “So Apple can encrypt your data, if they  want, or more probably if they are ordered to.”

The company was again unbothered by the amount of evidence  seemingly indicating the contrary, denying it was involved in the  DROPOUT JEEP program.

Our team is continuously working to make our products even  more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their  software up to date with the latest advancements,” the  company said. “Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine  Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and  take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue  to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and  defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s  behind them.”

Both pundits and the American public have voiced concern with the  NSA program, not only because of the surveillance but because of  what it could mean for future technology development. Michael  Dearing, founder of the Harrison Metal tech company, wrote on that this latest revelation is a major cause for  concern.

My concern is more personal and local: The NSA’s version of  patriotism is corroding silicon Valley. Integrity of our  products, creative freedom of talented people, and trust with our  users are the casualties. The dolphin in the tuna net is us – our  industry, our work, and the social fabric of our community,”   he wrote.

Product integrity is doomed when the NSA involves itself in  the product development process. The scope of the NSA’s activity  here is unknowable. But what I hear from founders and other  investors – never mind Reuters’ reporting about RSA Security, and  Spiegel’s about backdoors in networking products – is beyond my  worst expectations.”



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