US joins China in being accused of attempting to hack electronic devices
WASHINGTON, USA -- Not only has China recently been accused of placing spyware in laptop computers donated or sold to Caribbean governments, but a report on Tuesday by investigative news site The Intercept, citing documents obtained from National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, claims that US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) researchers have worked for nearly a decade to break the security protecting Apple phones and tablets.
The report cites top-secret US documents that suggest that US government researchers had created a version of XCode, Apple's software application development tool, to create surveillance backdoors into programs distributed on Apple's App Store.
It said the latest documents, which covered a period from 2006 to 2013, stop short of proving whether US intelligence researchers had succeeded in breaking Apple's encryption coding, which secures user data and communications.
Efforts to break into Apple products by government security researchers started as early as 2006, a year before Apple introduced its first iPhone and continued through the launch of the iPad in 2010 and beyond, The Intercept said.
Breaching Apple security was part of a top-secret program by the US government, aided by British intelligence researchers, to hack "secure communications products, both foreign and domestic" including Google Android phones, it said.
Last September, Apple strengthened encryption methods for data stored on iPhones, saying the changes meant the company no longer had any way to extract customer data on the devices, even if a government ordered it to with a search warrant.
"I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services," Apple chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a statement on privacy and security published last year. "We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will."
World leaders, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, have expressed concern that adding privacy-enhancing tools as mass market features could prevent governments from tracking militants planning attacks.