As Apple battles the FBI over the default encryption used on iPhones, security analysts are comparing the different levels of smartphone security controls offered by device manufacturers and mobile OS developers.
In USA Today’s recent story, “Are Android phones more easily hacked than iPhones?” technology writers Brett Molina and Elizabeth Weise talk to the world’s leading cyber security experts, including Armor Director of Cyber Threat Research Dr. Chase Cunningham, about the differences in the market.
Highlighted by the letter penned by Apple CEO Tim Cook, encryption remains the challenge point. The FBI, with the support of a U.S. federal judge, wants Apple to bypass default encryption so the agency can investigate the activities of accused San Bernadino terrorists Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik.
“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers,” Cook said in a letter posted to the Apple website on Feb. 16. “We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”
The important encryption debate aside, USA Today also discussed the issue of backdoors, specifically in handsets built and used in global markets. Domestically, the mobile leaders aren’t nearly as torn on this issue; at least publicly, they’re unanimously opposed. Globally, it’s a different issue and the legalities of backdoors — ordered by courts or not — is murky at best.
“Any electronic or telecommunications technology that is manufactured in China, or by any nation-state adversary, has the potential to have a backdoor built into it at the hardware layer,” Cunningham told USA Today.
Cunningham also warned that hardware backdoors are much more dangerous than the software concerns Apple and the FBI are arguing. In many cases, foreign governments coerce manufacturers to ensure they always have direct access to a device if needed. According to Cunningham, a hardware-based backdoor is “nearly impossible to detect and is far more powerful than any software.”