What are iPhones encrypted with?

Apple: Full encryption for iCloud backups allegedly discarded after an FBI conversation

Apple uses end-to-end encryption for a growing number of iCloud services, but not for the automatic backups of iPhones and iPads. According to information from the Reuters news agency, the group rejected plans for end-to-end backup encryption "around two years ago" - following discussions with the US Federal Police FBI.

Apple informed the FBI about the planned end-to-end encryption for iPhone backups, how Reuters citing several informed individuals, including former and current FBI and Apple employees. The implementation of the plan would have meant that Apple would no longer have been able to hand over or decrypt the iCloud backups by court order.

Apple boss: want to get rid of iCloud keys

FBI agents have raised objections because they feared interference with the investigation, it said. In talks between Apple and the FBI in the following year, it was only announced that the company had dropped plans for end-to-end encryption of the backups. "The legal department sawed it off for reasons that anyone can think of for themselves," quoted as saying Reuters a previous employee. Another former Apple employee pointed out that the project may have been discontinued for other reasons, and it was feared that customers would lock themselves out of their backups.

Apple didn't want to comment on the report. Apple CEO Tim Cook stressed in an interview in October 2018 that Apple would "no longer have a key" for iCloud in the future. But it is difficult to predict when Apple will "change this practice". If the schedule mentioned in the Reuters report was correct, the encryption project would have already been buried at this point. Apple has not yet issued a statement on this discrepancy either.

No help with unlocking iPhone, but giving iCloud data

Similar to the beginning of 2016, Apple is currently again in a public dispute with the FBI about help in unlocking iPhones. The data stored locally on the devices are encrypted; decryption requires knowledge of the device code. Then, as now, Apple sent iCloud data to the FBI. In the current case, according to Apple, "many gigabytes" of data were passed on to the investigators, which may have been iCloud backups and possibly also iCloud photos.

Central iCloud services such as the keychain with all access data and health data rely on end-to-end encryption. The synchronization of browser tabs and Safari history is now also protected, but only from iOS 13 and macOS 10.15. Other services such as backups, appointments and address books are encrypted during transmission and on Apple's servers, but the company owns the key.

iCloud backup as a back door for encrypted iMessages

Apple's communication service iMessage has relied on end-to-end encryption from the very beginning, as has the associated service "Messages in iCloud", which synchronizes iMessages across all devices. However, if the user has activated iCloud backups, the iMessages also end up there - or "a copy of the key that protects your messages," as Apple explains.

Android backups with end-to-end encryption

Competitor Google is already one step further with Android: Since Android 9, smartphones have been able to encrypt their cloud backups on the basis of a key that is randomly generated on the respective end device. The key is then encrypted using the device code or PIN or password set by the user, so that Google should no longer be able to see it itself. (lbe)

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