US DEA upset it can't break Apple's iMessage encryption

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration are reportedly frustrated that they cannot crack Apple's iMessage encryption to listen in on suspects.

DEA
A DEA intelligence note warns of the difficulties of intercepting Apple iMessages. Source: CNet.


Apple's apparent stymying of the DEA was revealed in a government intelligence note obtained by CNet, which calls it "impossible" to intercept iMessages, even with a warrant. The note is entitled "Apple's iMessages: A Challenge for DEA Intercept."

The DEA is apparently only stopped if the message is an iMessage encrypted by Apple. If the message is instead sent as a text message, it's easier for the agency to obtain, though the DEA did admit that it "seems to be more successful if the intercept is placed on the non-Apple device."

The security of Apple's iOS platform vs. competing mobile operating systems like Google Android is frequently touted as a key advantage for the iPhone. The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center even issued a warning to users last year regarding malware that targets Android devices.

iMessages are encrypted messages that can be sent between Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads and even Macs running the OS X platform. The service launched with iOS 5 in 2011, and Apple publicly revealed that all sent and received iMessages would be securely encrypted.

Messages


DEA officials first discovered that iMessages could be a hinderance to their efforts when a real-time electronic surveillance under the Federal Wiretap Act failed to yield all of a target's text messages. The agency then discovered that the person was using iMessage, which bypassed the text messaging services of carrier Verizon.

Apple revealed in January that it sees 2 billion iMessages sent each day from a half-billion iOS devices, plus Mac computers, which gained iMessage support last year. iMessage accounts allow users to send and receive their secure messages across all their Apple devices.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 66
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    ROTFLMAO.

    Even so, the Android fans will continue to scream about how much more secure Android is.
  • Reply 2 of 66
    rickagrickag Posts: 1,626member
    Woohoo, security by obscurity.
  • Reply 3 of 66
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Interesting that Apple keeps it more locked down than the carriers. I wonder if they simply haven't built in the mechanisms to allow for easy device access or if they are actively preventing them from gaining access.

    rickag wrote: »
    Woohoo, security by obscurity.

    500 million devices and with the highest mindshare of any tech company or brand? Yeah, real obscure¡ You'd probably have to talk to a 1000 people before you'd find anyone that has ever heard of the iPhone, much less seen one¡
  • Reply 4 of 66
    charlitunacharlituna Posts: 7,198member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    500 million devices and with the highest mindshare of any tech company or brand? Yeah, real obscure¡ You'd probably have to talk to a 1000 people before you'd find anyone that has ever heard of the iPhone, much less seen one¡


     


    More like 10 if you are only looking for 'heard of'. 


     


    As for this issue, I'm sure with a proper federal warrant, Apple would comply and there is some way for them to access the data. 

  • Reply 5 of 66
    gustavgustav Posts: 823member
    I wish AppleInsider would stop making assumptions. Where is the evidence that the US DEA is "upset" or "frustrated."

    And rickag, I don't think you know what "security by obscurity" is, because this isn't it.
  • Reply 6 of 66
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member
    Sounds good to me. F*ck Big Brother, the DEA, the American Government and all those other peepers that infringe upon our freedom.

    Fascism is still a bad thing AFAIK.
  • Reply 7 of 66
    ankleskaterankleskater Posts: 1,287member
    solipsismx wrote: »
    Interesting that Apple keeps it more locked down than the carriers. I wonder if they simply haven't built in the mechanisms to allow for easy device access or if they are actively preventing them from gaining access.
    500 million devices and with the highest mindshare of any tech company or brand? Yeah, real obscure¡ You'd probably have to talk to a 1000 people before you'd find anyone that has ever heard of the iPhone, much less seen one¡

    And based on the report herein, if you see one, it's probably a drug dealer being pursued by the DEA. Clearly, if you have the iPhone, you have something to hide.
  • Reply 8 of 66
    genovellegenovelle Posts: 809member


    I don't think it will matter.  Most drug dealers want giant phones to match their 24 inch rims on their giant SUV. Their girlfriends need them to match the giant hoop earrings.

  • Reply 9 of 66
    quibellquibell Posts: 2member
    This is classic government trolling. If the DEA REALLY had a hard time reading messages do you think they would make that publicly known?

    Everyone needs to remember context.
  • Reply 10 of 66
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    And based on the report herein, if you see one, it's probably a drug dealer being pursued by the DEA. Clearly, if you have the iPhone, you have something to hide.

    I use iMessage across multiple iDevices and Macs constantly. I must be a kingpin.
  • Reply 11 of 66
    fithianfithian Posts: 82member
    Hey, buddy. Get a warrant!
  • Reply 12 of 66
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    fithian wrote: »
    Hey, buddy. Get a warrant!

    Hey, buddy. Read the article.

    Even if they have a warrant, the DEA has trouble reading iMessages.

    However, I don't see anything wrong with that in a country based on individual freedom.
  • Reply 13 of 66
    Call me crazy, but is this something that the public should even know? And by public, I really mean drug dealers?
  • Reply 14 of 66
    allenbfallenbf Posts: 993member
    This must be why the end users (addicts in the street) get caught instead of the kingpins. The street peeps are using Android.
  • Reply 15 of 66
    jollypauljollypaul Posts: 328member


    Oh noes! How will they stop cannabis use without round the clock surveillance of all citizens?


     


    DEA, your concern has been noted. I will be sure to act on it at every possible voting opportunity.

  • Reply 16 of 66
    solipsismx wrote: »
    Interesting that Apple keeps it more locked down than the carriers. I wonder if they simply haven't built in the mechanisms to allow for easy device access or if they are actively preventing them from gaining access.

    Apple isn't a telecom company, they are a technology company so the same rules don't apply to them. I'm sure that is about to change though.
  • Reply 17 of 66
    ankleskaterankleskater Posts: 1,287member
    solipsismx wrote: »
    I use iMessage across multiple iDevices and Macs constantly. I must be a kingpin.

    Don't you mean iKingpin?

    Let's face it, who else but a drug lord can afford so many outrageously over-priced Apple devices?
  • Reply 18 of 66

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    I use iMessage across multiple iDevices and Macs constantly. I must be a kingpin.


    Finally, the truth comes out! imageimage

  • Reply 19 of 66
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,949member


    Umm, strong encryption has been around for ages in various forms.  This is why the US government classified it as a munition in the 90s


     


    BBM uses it too, but the big difference here it seems is that Apple's iMessage servers don't actually keep any unencrypted data on them.  That's my guess anyways given the fact that, even with a warrant, it's difficult to get ahold of the messages.  Whereas, with BBM, governments have been able to put pressure on RIM/BlackBerry to get ahold of data.

  • Reply 20 of 66
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,805member
    jragosta wrote: »
    Hey, buddy. Read the article.

    Even if they have a warrant, the DEA has trouble reading iMessages.

    However, I don't see anything wrong with that in a country based on individual freedom.

    I don't think that's not really what the DEA says is it? iMessages are considered encrypted communications and therefor aren't intercepted in the first place. I don't think they commented on whether they can de-crypt them if they get their hands on them did they? I get the impression it might be a legal issue when dealing with encrypted message from the way the DEA notice is worded. Could be wrong of course since there's not a lot of details.
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