Apple goes on the defensive against NSA iPhone spying allegations

Yesterday we reported on a presentation by security researcher Jacob Appelbaum that reportedly showed leaked NSA documents in which the agency claimed to have a “100 percent success rate” at installing spyware on iPhones. Following those accusations, Apple has officially responded in a statement provided to TechCrunch:

Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers’ privacy and security.  Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements.  Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers.  We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.

The leaked NSA documents detailed in Appelbaum’s presentation above and first released on German news site Der Spiegel claimed an NSA program called DROPOUTJEEP allowed officials to access almost all data stored on an iPhone, including location, text messages, contact lists, and the device’s microphone and camera. The reports claimed the NSA needed physical access to devices to install the spyware– something it could accomplish by intercepting online shipments– but a version that could be remotely installed was reportedly in development. Apple’s statement today seems to address Appelbaum’s accusation (below) that Apple might have had prior knowledge of the program:

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“Either [the NSA] have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products, meaning they are hoarding information about critical systems that American companies produce, and sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it themselves,”

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  1. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    And yet…who is gonna take them to task over it? If Apple and the Government, or the -insertcompany- and the Government conspire against citizens….who is going to stop them? Who is going to take the logical next step after the accused parties come back and flatly state, “ didn’t do that.”

  2. to (@toobdesign) - 9 years ago

    With PRISM Apple has signed a contract with the NSA – they (Apple) have to collaborate with the NSA. And they are forced to neglect any collaboration.
    Thats exactly what Apple did here – obeying to the NSA and the PRISM-Contract.
    There is NOT a single US-Corporation left to be trusted.

    • WaveMedia (@WaveMedia) - 9 years ago

      They have no choice, it’s either sign it and keep to the terms or face massive fines and potentially jail time. There’s even clauses in these laws that say they can’t even talk about certain things, so for all we know they could be giving them everything but the law in place says they can’t tell us that. It’s an abhorrent abuse of governmental power and something these companies HAVE to abide by or face massive repercussions.

  3. “We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.” ….both foreign and domestic (is what I read lol)

  4. Marklewood at Serenity Lodge - 9 years ago

    Its difficult for me to believe that Apple or any other company can or will stop the Government from spying on citizens. And its equally difficult to believe that anyone doesn’t understand the reality or the need for such covert spying. We want to be safe, we must pay the price. Yes? Sure there has to be a healthy balance between privacy and public safety. That’s where our process of elections comes into play. We make our Government do our bidding by voting our desires. Trouble is, I think we’ve got complacent. And it now may be too late. The horses left the barn a long time ago, before we knew the door had been left open. It may be too late to coral them back again. The whistle blowers are too late.

  5. Dave Huntley - 9 years ago

    These are all allegations, nothing is proven, so all the talk of who did what is ridiculous. The shipments for apple orders come direct from China – assuming the NSA has no easy way in to install spyware in Chinese factories (pure fantasy if suggested) then it flies into Canada where I live, I fail to see where the NSA can sit there and tweak my phone… the remote software “was said to be in development” – that again means nothing, they don’t say it exists, it just hints of a rumour. Who was it that ‘said’ that is the immediate question. Snowden allowed Greenbaum to cash in on his stolen docs and sell to the highest bidder, this guy looks like he is trying to cash in on rumours too. They don’t deserve column inches unless they have some hard proof. He said and they said really are nothing but fiction.

  6. This is a non-story. It dates back to 2008, when at the time, it may have been novel. Today, anyone with a computer and a few minutes can gain 100% unfettered access to the full contents of any iPhone via JAILBREAK. If you think the NSA’s scheme involved something other than a JB, then that’s the wrong thinking – it’s the only way, and the first step, to circumvent the iPhone’s security measures.

    So, to recap, if anyone, including the NSA has physical access to your iPhone without your knowledge, it is easy for them to jailbreak and install whatever they wish and/or pull any information they wish.

  7. lbhajdu1 - 9 years ago

    Oh I guess that’s the one they used on Angela Merkel. I hope they at least had the common decency to turn off the camera when she was at her gynecologist.

  8. Apple has actually done things to thwart the NSA. iMessage/FaceTime being one of them. They exchange peer-to-peer encryption keys that Apple doesn’t ever receive. Now, could Apple build in a backdoor for the NSA, yes, but I doubt they have.

  9. drtyrell969 - 9 years ago

    The metric tons of naive comments in this thread is unreal. Having worked in high-clearance encryption for folks from Los Alamos Labs to NORAD, allow me to enlighten. It’s a felony for any USA company to use an encryption key that can’t be broken by the government instantly UNLESS a backdoor private key is provided to said government. A felony, you read it right. Secondly, the notion that Apple is the good guy in this “war against” spying is laughable to the nth degree. Apple has been scraping faces in iPhoto and iMovie w/o the permission of the consumer for nearly half a decade. These b-tree indexes of faces and GPS data are then combed by incoming untraceable binary queries that transmit target data, return a simply boolean of probability, and if so desired, return for further B&W scrapes of the photos awaiting yet more approval to “maybe” seek legal action to either raid the person’s place of dwelling or in some special cases, invade their homes and install monitoring hardware that will eventually upload all desirable content. Where possible, bandwidth rates can be temporarily increased to make sure vital uploads conclude in the shortest amount of time. Yet programmers think this is impossible, because they “sniff” the outgoing ports and “stop” the mean old NSA. Reality is these transmissions sneak in through unmonitored ports that are also covertly unmonitored by the OS itself rendering all monitor software incapable of noticing the packets period. Google, aka the Government is building Chrome as the ultimate spy OS, and they are doing so not by hiding good solid encryption, but by using the platform of OpenSource to make it easy to breech. Apple would rather not comply with the NSA I’m sure, but they have no choice. They are owned by Fidelity who plays for the big boys. The developers are heavily compartmentalized and sometimes encouraged to use components which have backdoors build into them upon arrival. Not every employee has to be in on it for it to be there. And for the record, there is no such thing as “needing surveillance” to stay free. That is the most idiotic statement an intellectual person could make. That cowards down to the terrorists and lets them win.

    • God, I hope you’re not right.

    • OneOkami (@OneOkami) - 9 years ago

      I believe it. In this day and age I think it is naive to think you can put your any of your personal information onto any network/device that isn’t completely cut off from the outside world and assume that information will remain private to you.

      The more you embrace external networking, the more privacy you inherently forfeit. That’s just reality, unfortunately.

  10. standardpull - 9 years ago

    Jacob Appelbaum? He’s a crank. “Researchers” without credible publications and that don’t do anything but self-promotion are a dime a dozen. Boo Hoo.

  11. I think this is ok. After all the NSA is in place to protect innocent citizens. I’m all for the government/police to get as much data as possible to catch and apprehend thieves/murderers e.t.c.
    Its a good thing and the hype surrounding NSA is unjustified.
    If you’re not a criminal, you shouldn’t have a problem with it.

  12. If Apple is found guilty of having prior knowledge the only thing that could save them is if it’s also revealed that all phones from all manufacturers are doing the same thing.

    What’s incriminating, however, is Apple making an official claim that they had no knowledge of this DROPOUTJEEP program but being found out later to be in full cooperation. It will completely destroy their credibility.

    One can only hope that they’re being honest or that this entire report is completely falsified and meant to single out iPhones. Maybe he works for Samsung.

    • varera (@real_varera) - 9 years ago

      Come on, Mark. the report is based on leak of 2008 dated document. Of course there is no other phones mentioned, there were no Android phone around by that time. The very first commercial Android phone was released in October 2008.

  13. livelystate - 9 years ago

    The NSA’s sister agency GCHQ in the UK has also been facing some tough criticism lately. I imagine a lot more will come to light over the coming months. Not sure they go as far the NSA though.


Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.