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Apple's iMessage Security Disputed by Researchers

Apple's iMessage Security Disputed by Researchers
By Seth Fitzgerald

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With security researchers now claiming that Apple is indeed able to access iMessage data, it is possible that the information has been shared with the NSA. If Apple controls the encryption keys used to protect iMessage information, it is capable of decryption of messages for the NSA if it chooses to do so.
 


Apple has claimed for months that its iMessage encryption software is unbreakable, meaning that all messages sent via the service cannot be read by anyone, including Apple itself. Security researchers have now come out to refute that claim, stating that iMessage encryption is not actually secure in the way Apple has made it out to be.

Not only are the researchers refuting Apple's statements, but they have basically suggested Apple lied. Immediately after French iOS jailbreak-developer Cyril Cattiaux made his claim about iMessage, Apple responded, stating that it has not lied and that iMessage encryption standards are higher than most.

Is Apple Lying?

According to Apple, iMessage encryption prevents anyone but the sender and receiver from reading the messages that are sent via data transmission between two iOS devices. However, these claims do not seem to be backed up by any real information and are being refuted by Cattiaux, as well as Matthew Green, a cryptographer and research professor at Johns Hopkins University.

"If you use the iCloud backup service to back up your iDevice, there's a very good chance that Apple can access the last few days of your iMessage history," said Green, in response to Apple's claim. The most upfront attacks against Apple and its "unbreakable encryption" statement have come from a group named QuarksLab, a penetration and testing lab in Paris.

Members of QuarksLab have said claims that the encryption is "unbreakable" are nothing more than lies. Apple has stuck with its statements, despite researchers coming out to refute them. "iMessage is not architected to allow Apple to read messages," said an Apple spokeswoman.

NSA Concerns

Apple has been releasing information regarding how many U.S. National Security Agency data requests it receives since June, and according to the company, it receives around 1,000 requests per month. Although the requests are coming in on a consistent basis, Apple assured its customers that it is unable to see iMessage data and therefore has never and will never hand that over to the NSA.

With security researchers now claiming that Apple is indeed able to access iMessage data, it is possible that the information has been shared with the NSA. Cattiaux and his colleagues have shown that Apple controls the encryption keys used to protect iMessage information. With Apple in control of the keys, it is completely capable of decryption of messages for the NSA if it chooses to do so.

Not only have multiple security researchers come forth with their own information to show that Apple's encryption is breakable, but technology publications have been reassured by other experts that the findings are accurate and backed up by data.

"Because Apple controls the device and they issue the keys, it's clear that if Apple wanted, they could 'man in the middle' so that they could themselves decrypt it," said Ashkan Soltani, an independent researcher.

Whether or not Apple is sharing iMessage data with the NSA is still unknown, but it now appears as though the company is quite capable of doing so.
 

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