While Apple and FBI are exchanging statements and court orders over data stored in iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in the San Bernardino rampage, everyone is intent on what will be the outcome of the latest round of crypto-debate. The feds are blaming Apple of undermining national security, making false claims and arguments on legal rights, and creating diversions in order to preserve its economic interests; Apple (and other tech leaders) are accusing FBI of intentionally wanting to set a precedent by forcing Apple to create the software that can unlock the phone; and meanwhile, other cases, namely that of the WhatsApp messaging app, are waiting for the outcome of this case to determine their fate.
A lot is being made over the consequences of this latest round of Crypto Wars will have for FBI, Apple, other tech companies, encryption technology, and digital privacy in general. What everyone is missing out though, is that the consequences and aftermath are already here. Here are some future developments that will likely come to pass regardless as we wait out for Apple and FBI to settle their scores and even the odds.
Loss of trust in cloud services and storage
It has already become a given that Apple – and many other tech firms – will be generously giving out user data to government agencies when they present warrants. In fact Apple used the fact that it had given access to Farook’s iCloud account as proof that it has showed its utmost support of government efforts to uncover data regarding the San Bernardino case.
While government access to data in this particular case might be totally warranted, a large number of people will not like the notion of government agencies having free access to their data, and will decide to opt out of having their data store in Apple (or other providers’) cloud, even though it will prevent themselves from restoring their information in case of data loss, such as when they lose their phones or their computers become damaged.
Tech companies will create even more safeguards against government intrusions
Whether Apple manages to fend off FBI’s attempts at compelling it to create the famous FBiOS (or GovtOS) or not, it will take measures to make sure such a request becomes unfeasible in the future. In fact, cryptography legend Adi Shamir berated Apple for not having done so already. Current iPhones only accept versions of iOS that have been signed with keys that are within the possession of Apple, thus the reason FBI needs the help of the tech giant to break into the phone in question.
Apple is already mulling over packing future iPhones with a feature that would require a strong user passcode to allow the installation of new firmware, even if it’s signed by the manufacturer. This would effectively totally shut out Apple from its own devices and render the company technically incapable of carrying out court orders in the future.
Other tech companies will probably follow suit and protect themselves against similar cases that will most certainly occur in the future.
Ad-hoc and personal crypto apps will propagate
This is more of a prediction, but I think it is likely to happen. What’s evident is that governments will continue to try different venues to place backdoors into secure communications used by tech companies, whether it be legislative and judicial channels or behind-the-scenes deals struck with the tech firms. In light of this revelation, users who care for their privacy will try to protect themselves against the day tech companies are forced to hand over the keys to the government. This certainly accounts for criminals, but it also includes thousands of activists, journalists and political dissidents who want to carry out legitimate and libertarian activities.
We will most probably see a new breed of strong opensource and no-brand crypto applications, whose developers cannot be identified and indicted, tried or influenced by government decisions. Over time, they will also develop the capability to hide metadata as well as message contents, and thus information will become even harder to track for law enforcement. Some organizations will develop their own proprietary encryption apps while others will download readymade solutions that will be shared by developers on the internet and tailor them to their needs.
The Dark Web will go darker since its denizens will stop using commercial off-the-shelf products, effectively giving law enforcement agencies a harder time to track and figure out their communications. Negligent users will continue to use services offered by main tech firms, not knowing that their every bit of information is at the mercy of battles being waged between the titans.
But one thing will remain constant: Encryption will stay, will grow stronger, and we will all come to know that you can’t roll back history. The only way is forward.