Do you ever worry that federal agencies might be hacking into your smartphone to read your text messages and listen to your calls? Then you’re probably up to no good, but you can sleep easy if all of your dirty business deals are carried out through iMessage on your iOS device.
Apple’s iMessage encryption is so good, not even federal agencies are able to crack it.
An internal Drug Enforcement Administration document, obtained by CNET, reveals that “it is impossible to intercept iMessages between two Apple devices” — even with a court order approved by a federal judge — because Apple’s security is just too good.
The “intelligence note” from the DEA is said to be the most detailed example of the technological obstacles faced by federal agents when attempting to conduct court-authorized surveillance on “non-traditional” forms of communication.
In plain English, that means the security is getting so good on modern smartphones and mobile devices that it’s harder than ever for federal agencies to spy on you.
“iMessages between two Apple devices are considered encrypted communication and cannot be intercepted, regardless of the cell phone service provider,” the DEA said. However, the agency says that communications between an Apple device and a non-Apple device “can sometimes be intercepted, depending on where the intercept is placed.”
CNET explains how the DEA first stumbled across the issue:
The DEA’s “Intelligence Note” says that iMessage came to the attention of the agency’s San Jose, Calif., office as agents were drafting a request for a court order to perform real-time electronic surveillance under Title III of the Federal Wiretap Act. They discovered that records of text messages already obtained from Verizon Wireless were incomplete because the target of the investigation used iMessage: “It became apparent that not all text messages were being captured.”
When Apple launched iMessage back in 2011, the company said that the service would employ “secure end-to-end encryption,” though like most of Apple’s services, its juicy details remain a secret.
The FBI has confirmed that it is now pushing for “some form of legislation” that will prevent social networks, messaging services, and VoIP providers from making their services so secure, and insusceptible to government eavesdropping. Last May, the bureau reportedly began asking web companies to oppose a law that would levy new wiretap requirements on these services.
Andrew Weissmann, the FBI’s general counsel, said the difficulty here is “trying to come up with the fairest and most sort of narrowly tailored means to do this.” He added: “We don’t want to have a system where you’re needlessly imposing burdens on thriving industries or even budding industries… So what the bureau has been spending quite a bit of time on, and certainly has as a top priority this year, is coming up with a proposal with other members of the intelligence community that tries to balance all of that.”
Of course, Apple’s encryption technology isn’t there to thwart federal investigators, but merely to protect innocent users from having their messages intercepted by hackers. Some might argue that the same encryption should be used by cell phone service providers as standard.