By Katabella Roberts
Apple on Dec. 7 announced a string of new security features, including full end-to-end encryption for nearly all the data its users store in its global iCloud storage system, prompting concern from the FBI.
In an overview of the new feature posted to the Apple website, the California-headquartered tech giant said its “Advanced Data Protection” optional setting will provide its users with the “highest level of cloud data security” and keep user data safe even in the event of a data breach in the cloud.
“If you choose to enable Advanced Data Protection, your trusted devices retain sole access to the encryption keys for the majority of your iCloud data, thereby protecting it using end-to-end encryption. Additional data protected includes iCloud Backup, Photos, Notes, and more,” Apple said.
End-to-end encryption means that not even Apple can access the data, according to the company.
“If you lose access to your account, only you can recover this data, using your device passcode or password, recovery contact, or recovery key,” the company said.
The new feature will be available on iOS 16.2, iPadOS 16.2, and macOS 13.1 for users in the United States by the end of the year, before rolling out to the rest of the world in early 2023, according to Apple.
Users can enable it by enrolling in two-factor authentication for their Apple ID and setting a password or passcode on their devices.
Apple Hands Over Account Data to FBI
Apple already protects 14 sensitive data categories via default end-to-end encryption. Data covered by Advanced Data Protection includes iCloud Backup, photos, notes, reminders, voice memos, and more.
The move marks a turning point for Apple. While its iMessage and Facetime communications services are fully encrypted end-to-end, the large majority of what users back up remotely via iCloud, such as photos and videos, are not.
Apple said on Wednesday that the new data protections represent the “next step in its ongoing effort to provide users with even stronger ways to protect their data.”
However, the decision will also no doubt exacerbate ongoing tensions with law enforcement, including the FBI, which has requested that Apple hand over data from iPhones multiple times. Apple does so but only to an extent, according to the company, stopping short of handing over all of the data on the phone.
According to Apple’s most recent transparency report, the tech giant handed over data to law enforcement 3,980 times from January to June 2021, with the majority of the user data tied to Brazil and the United States.
“Account requests generally seek information regarding customers’ Apple ID accounts, such as account holder name and address and account connections to Apple services—for example, law enforcement investigations where an account may have been used unlawfully,” according to Apple. “Account requests may also seek customers’ content data, such as photos, email, iOS device backups, contacts or calendars.”
FBI ‘Deeply Concerned’
In a statement on Wednesday, the FBI said it encourages and advocates for encryption schemes that provide “lawful access by design,” meaning that tech companies issued with a “legal order” can decrypt data and hand it over to law enforcement.
The agency added that it “continues to be deeply concerned with the threat end-to-end and user-only-access encryption pose,” which it said hinders its ability to protect Americans from an array of crimes including cyberattacks and terrorism.
However, proponents of the increased data protection have praised the move.
Matthew Green, a cryptographer and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, wrote on Twitter that Apple “sets the standard on what secure (consumer) cloud backup looks like,” noting that the move will “have repercussions all over the industry as competitors chase them.”
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Apple announced iMessage Contact Key Verification, through which users can verify they are communicating only with whom they intend, and Security Keys, which grants users the option to require a physical security key to sign in to their Apple ID account.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.