The CIA has spent years trying to extract Apple encryption keys, a prolonged effort that would have given the spy agency the ability to monitor iPhone and iPad devices. Top-secret documents obtained by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and published by the Intercept reveal a number of CIA plots, including an attempt to manipulate XCode, the critical Apple software used in iOS apps.
The report doesn't mention any instances where the CIA was able to install a “backdoor” window into iOS users' activity, but it's clear the agency has that near the top of its agenda. Fabricated XCode software could give a third party -- the CIA or NSA -- unauthorized access to Apple's operations, and covertly send all of a device's data from the user's fingertips to U.S. intelligence data hubs dispersed throughout the world. This revelation is just the latest from Snowden, who started leaking documents in June 2013 and has disclosed information that's infuriated the technology industry and contributed to a sense of mistrust of the U.S. government.
“If U.S. products are OK to target, that's news to me,” Matthew Green, a cryptography expert at Johns Hopkins University, told the Intercept. “Tearing apart the products of U.S. manufacturers and potentially putting hardware backdoors in software distributed by unknowing developers all seems a bit beyond 'targeting bad guys.' It may be a means to an end, but it's a hell of a means.”
Many of the projects disclosed in the Snowden documents have been focal issues at the past several “Trusted Computing Base Jamboree” events, held annually at Lockheed Martin's facility in Northern Virginia, the Intercept noted.
This disclosure comes one week after U.S. President Barack Obama, in an interview with Reuters, criticized a Chinese counterterrorism law that would require all U.S. technology companies to install backdoors (the same kind the CIA is seeking) into products sold there.