Apple Introduces New iCloud Encryption to Prevent Hacking

Apple is adding a new end-to-end encryption option for iCloud data that will further protect backups, photos and notes. Called Advanced Data Protection, it will shield even Apple from seeing some of the most sensitive data users store on its servers. The change reportedly makes it impossible for Apple to provide law enforcement with the contents of encrypted files. The company says the security enhancements will help protect its customers from the most sophisticated hackers. The feature rolls out this week for those participating in Apple’s Beta Software Program.

By the end of the year Advanced Data Protection will be available to all U.S. users, launching globally in early 2023. “As customers have put more and more of their personal information of their lives into their devices, these have become more and more the subject of attacks by advanced actors,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior VP of software engineering in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Because the new encryption keys are controlled by users, Apple’s ability to restore lost data will be limited.

Earlier this year Apple said there are 1.8 billion active Apple devices worldwide. Wired reports that “threats to data stored in the cloud are visibly on the rise across the industry” and that “data stored in the cloud is at greater risk of compromise than data stored locally.”

Results of an Apple study indicate global data breaches exposed 1.1 billion records in 2021. Apple has been taking active steps to bolster security, including modifying iMessage “to make it harder for messages to be snooped on,” per WSJ, and offering hardware-based security keys to replace passwords for user logins.

While security enthusiasts will approve of this latest move, global law enforcement is unlikely to be pleased. WSJ reports the new cloud security system “could pose legal complications” for Apple around the world, quoting Ciaran Martin, former chief of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, saying that “on the face of it, existing legislation in Australia and looming legislation in the UK would seem to give those governments the power to tell Apple in those countries effectively not to do this.”

“This development will prompt questions at home and abroad, including whether the government of China will really accept a loss of data access,” said King & Spalding partner Sumon Dantiki, a former senior FBI and Justice Department official. WSJ writes that “China’s increasingly strict demands for access to data on companies that operate within its borders” is now a U.S. national security concern.

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