Apple fortifies iMessage to foil hackers of the future


Apple Security Encryption
iMessage is about to achieve a higher level of security than any of its widely used rivals.
Image: Apple

An iMessage upgrade with post-quantum cryptography will make Apple’s instant messaging platform ready to fend off future hackers. Today’s encryption methods likely won’t be able to stand up, which is why Apple is bringing in the cutting-edge protocol.

The new tech will launch in March, making iMessage the most secure, widely used messaging service in the world, according to Apple.

iMessage moves into post-quantum cryptography

Most current encryption algorithms are based on very large prime numbers. They can be used to keep data safe because there’s no pattern to them — primes appear semi-randomly, even in numbers with hundreds of digits. However, researchers fear that future quantum computers will ferret out prime numbers of any size relatively quickly. And that could enable hackers to decrypt virtually everything kept secure on the internet.

To prepare, Apple and other researchers began working on post-quantum cryptography. PQC should keep iMessages secure from the potential capabilities of quantum computers.

Apple chart showing "quantum-secure cryptography in messaging apps"
Apple’s system to grade different levels of encryption security puts iMessage cryptography at Level 3.
Chart: Apple

Apple created a system for describing different levels of security, with Level 0 offering no support for end-to-end encryption. The Mac-maker says the new iMessage encryption security is Level 3, and calls the technology PQ3.

“We believe messaging protocols should go even further and attain Level 3 security, where post-quantum cryptography is used to secure both the initial key establishment and the ongoing message exchange, with the ability to rapidly and automatically restore the cryptographic security of a conversation even if a given key becomes compromised,” Apple said in a Security Research blog post from Wednesday.

iPhones, Macs, and other Apple products use iMessage to exchange text messages and images. Cutting-edge tech is nothing new to Apple’s instant messaging service. In fact, iMessage became the first widely available messaging app to provide end-to-end encryption by default when it launched in 2011.

Apple PQ3 is coming soon

Apple says support for PQ3 iMessage cryptography will start to roll out with the public releases of iOS 17.4, iPadOS 17.4, macOS 14.4 and watchOS 10.4. These should launch in March, as noted.

“iMessage conversations between devices that support PQ3 are automatically ramping up to the post-quantum encryption protocol,” said Apple.

Those looking for more detail should read Apple’s blog post, which is quite in-depth.


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